AC’s failure to reach a “constructive standpoint” on Gaza

Dylan Hitchcock-Lopez (USA, AC 08-10)

Over the course of the last academic year Atlantic College has hosted two intellectual exchanges concerning the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The most recent, of course, being prompted by the developments in Gaza. It would be generous to call these discussions actual debates, as the word ‘debate’ implies that each side approaches a subject from an angle of rational discourse, in which a particular point or idea is emphasized and supporting material from reputable sources is used for reference. Certainly, a measure of emotionalism can be granted. The military strike in Gaza which has so dramatically affected the lives of thousands, both directly and indirectly, is bound to be met with strong feelings on all sides. However, in a place such as AC, where the ability to distinguish individual from national identity is so frequently applauded, it would be thought that some attempt would be made to separate the emotive and intellectual faculties and approach this inflammatory topic with a constructive, rather then destructive agenda in mind. As such, the reluctance of both sides to attempt to meet somewhere in the middle is, frankly, disappointing. That said, it is again understandable for rational judgment to become tangled somewhere in the morass of emotional upheaval on the part of those individuals intimately connected with the conflict. It is, however, simply inexcusable for people who, quite honestly, have very little personal investment in the current crisis to wittingly approach the issue with preconceived bias and reluctance to even attempt to weigh things fairly or strive for some constructive conclusions. In an environment such as AC we fail to fulfill our duty by subscribing to such blinkered and dogmatic ways of viewing world issues.

 

It is in no way this column’s intent to vindicate the atrociously disproportionate way in which the Israeli assault has been carried out. It is, rather, to discuss possible reasons and counter arguments with the hope that such understanding might help to provoke something more then simple condemnation of the Israeli government and one sided judgment calls on the issue. Fundamentally, it must be recognized that the primary crime committed by the Israeli military is that of effectiveness, not genocide. Hamas has made it their stated goal to drive Israel into the sea, offering at most a thirty year truce in place of a genuine peace accord. They would quite happily deliberately murder Israeli civilians, as they indeed did during the intifada of 2001-03. Quite simply, Hamas is not capable of delivering the destruction they wish. Does this make them morally superior? It seems fair to say that their impotence in no way verifies their innocence. Israel, on the other hand, has no intent of conducting a systematic decimation of the Palestinian populace; if it did it would find very few technical obstacles standing in its way. Rather, it feels as if there is no alternative but to erect an ‘iron wall’ of deterrence which any aggressor- be it Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran-will be loathe to penetrate. Whether this is truly the most affective way of approaching the issue can be debated. The country was hardly in the running for universal popularity before the offensive, and its case has certainly not been strengthened since. In any matter, it is the course of action they decided on and it is the ramifications produced the world is left to deal with. Most important to recognize is the fact that this situation epitomizes a catch twenty-two. On the one hand Israel feels as if it has no recourse but to launch a campaign brutal enough to deter any comers. On the other, Palestine is a nation isolated and fragmented, the conciliatory Fatah in the West Bank at odds with extremist Hamas. Gaza, its government officially viewed as a terrorist organization by most of the western powers, not only feels vindicated by its philosophic manifest that demands it battle Israel, but also feels as if it is genuinely fighting an oppressive power in the name of liberty.

 

Compromise is difficult in such a situation where both sides feel as if they alone possess the moral high ground. Certainly the situation in Gaza is deplorable, and has been for some time. Economic embargoes, food shortages, power outages, lack of medical supplies. Even fuel for heating must often be smuggled through tunnels under the Egyptian border and sold on the black market. Yet, in the mind of Israel, to give those things to Gaza- to allow them to develop infrastructure, take back land, attain a surplus of resources- would simply be aiding an ideological group that is bound to strike back as soon as it has collected itself. Hamas unequivocally states that it has the full intent of fighting Israel to the last breath, can it then be any wonder that Israel wants to bring that breath sooner than later? As much as the world might rail against the conditions affecting the civilian populace in Gaza Israel still feels as if it has no choice but to wound Hamas so deeply it will never recover. Unfortunately, by doing so it is bound only to sow the seeds of hatred deeper, fueling the very extremism it fights and continuing the horrific cycle of blood shed and violence.

 

It may not be possible to reach any tangible solutions for issues as complex and multifaceted as the conflict in Gaza. Truly, it would be ridiculous to expect that we could, having so little to work with here in isolated little utopian ideal. Perhaps more important then the search for solutions is the striving for a place of common understanding, though not necessarily agreement. We, as people who profess to be informed, rational, and international individuals, have a duty to approach every issue, no matter how acutely we may feel, willing to examine it as clearly and open-mindedly as possible. It was stated earlier that a debate aught to include ‘reputable sources’ as supporting material. How is it that, though the cover article of the Economist published immediately prior to the recent debate on the Gaza invasion was entitled “Gaza: The Rights and Wrongs”, the only sources anyone brought to the table consisted of a conglomeration of propagandist news channels and a few internet pundit sites? The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that, for all we profess to strive for accord, no one possesses a genuine desire to meet half way and discuss these issues from a constructive standpoint. Indeed, it became immediately obvious none of the parties concerned intended to discuss anything from a ‘constructive standpoint’. The predominate mindset seemed to be bent on destructing the argument of the ‘opposition’. Therein is a primary issue; that the AC community so easily divides into opposing sides. In a question directed from the audience towards the end of the debate Israel was labeled guilty of ‘war crimes.’ War itself is a crime. Be it waged between armies of equitable strength or against mobs with stones. It matters not if it is fought with tanks or planes or machine guns or bodies wrapped in duct tape and dynamite. Some wars may be more palatable then others, by virtue of the side we stand on, but that does not change what they are. War, by its very nature, is a crime against humanity. And it is a crime we are all, each and every one of us, guilty of, for it is only by our acquiescence that they exist. It is our duty to eradicate the foundations of war, the roots that make it possible. We do that, not by simplifying conflict, not by turning it into something that possesses definite sides which we can support or deny, but by honestly, genuinely, discussing what it is that inspires it in the first place. And when we fail to do so, when we simply write off one nation as evil and the other justified and demand that the actions we so despise stop, we fail in our duty. And truly, if we fail in that here where there should be no such thing as the ‘opposition’ or ‘the enemy’, how can we ever expect better of the real world?

– United World College Student Magazine –

3 thoughts on “AC’s failure to reach a “constructive standpoint” on Gaza

  1. Well done, Dylan, for pointing out an unfortunate aspect of the general AC mindset – that there is no gray area, only black and white. It seems that all too often ACers are either too steadfast in their black or white opinion to even consider the other arguments or, not having an opinion on the matter, consider themselves too busy to learn about the gray area.

    I can understand this mindset when in AC you hear the black and white reality from your friends experiencing this war – who could blame you for not raising your voice with a ‘pro-Israeli’ comment if, say, your Palestinian dorm mate lost a relative to an Israeli bullet? – but it is precisely at times like these that the gray area must be examined closely and the largely false black and white opinions scrutinised or backed up by actual evidence if the AC populace is to ever reach a constructive standpoint on any issue.

  2. Interesting article, and very well balanced – I very much liked it. Dylan, you seem to be a very passionate UWCer, and I find myself continually amazed by the thought that goes into some of these articles. It’s not as if you have much time as it is, what with service, class, and everything else, so it’s impressive that you managed to produce such a well-written, well thought-out piece. I am not by any pretense an expert on the conflict, as some of my peers have pointed out in other messages, so I will not comment on your content. However, I will say something about your views on ACers coming to a conclusion, because this is something I had thought about a lot while at AC.

    First, you seem to criticize the absolutist stances of many AC students on the Israel-Palestine issue, and this was actually my biggest criticism of AC while I was there; I often found that students “picked the underdog” because they wanted to support a cause (after all, what’s the point of going to a UWC at all if you’re not going to have one?). Then, because people choose an absolutist approach, every issue is seen as black and white, and no compromise can be reached. An example of this is one side’s unwillingness to admit ANY wrongdoing on their part (for instance, I found that many ardent supporters of Tibet refused to admit any fault, which I found unlikely; even if the Tibetan people did nothing to harm the Chinese, I find it highly likely that the atrocities being committed against them have been blown out of proportion, which is wrong in a sense).

    Dylan, I think you have realised this as well, and maybe this is your biggest criticism of AC. I do, however, have two comments on this. The first is that it is essentially impossible to come to a constructive solution at all in these issues. Individuals at the top level of the political ladder, who have much more clout, who know much more about politics, economics, psychology, and pretty much anything else relevant to this issue still have not come up with this “constructive solution” of which you speak. UWC idealism continues to surprise me because, while it is great for us to want to arrive at a solution, it is important to understand that all the knowledge of the Israeli and Palestinian students, as well as the west asian history teachers, pales in comparison to all the knowledge that is necessary in order for this problem to even be approached (in fact, I would posit that nobody knows enough to attempt a potentially viable solution). So, while it is interesting to discuss possible solutions, you should never hope to arrive at one.

    This leads to the second comment which is that you should take advantage of what AC has to offer. I don’t know how many Israeli-Palestinian students you have this year, but you have a lot to learn from them that you could never learn from a textbook. What you can learn from a book or from a class is the historical background, the economic problems, the cultural divisions, the importance of religion, etc. However, what you can’t read, what is much better communicated verbally, are the feelings of such people. Maybe the students from these areas know all the facts that you could read in a book, but why should they waste their time telling you when you could learn it yourself? You should learn from what they alone can communicate, because you have such a limited time to do it. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were conversations about an individual’s culture, but not about their culture in itself; these conversations were about how they emotionally viewed my culture, and how views of people from all corners of the world are so unimaginably different. It was only after I left AC that I really began to understand how important that was, because there is just not any comparison to it in a large Canadian university. So, learn about their emotions rather than facts about a certain area, even though both are interesting – you have the rest of your life to learn anything you want about any part of the world (yay for internet!), but you only have to years to learn why all this information is really important.

    Anyway, I very much enjoyed your article, and I look forward to your next publication!

    Stephen Stich
    Canada, AC06-08

  3. Interesting article, and very well balanced – I very much liked it. Dylan, you seem to be a very passionate UWCer, and I find myself continually amazed by the thought that goes into some of these articles. It’s not as if you have much time as it is, what with service, class, and everything else, so it’s impressive that you managed to produce such a well-written, well thought-out piece. I am not by any pretense an expert on the conflict, as some of my peers have pointed out in other messages, so I will not comment on your content. However, I will say something about your views on ACers coming to a conclusion, because this is something I had thought about a lot while at AC.

    First, you seem to criticize the absolutist stances of many AC students on the Israel-Palestine issue, and this was actually my biggest criticism of AC while I was there; I often found that students “picked the underdog” because they wanted to support a cause (after all, what’s the point of going to a UWC at all if you’re not going to have one?). Then, because people choose an absolutist approach, every issue is seen as black and white, and no compromise can be reached. An example of this is one side’s unwillingness to admit ANY wrongdoing on their part (for instance, I found that many ardent supporters of Tibet refused to admit any fault, which I found unlikely; even if the Tibetan people did nothing to harm the Chinese, I find it highly likely that the atrocities being committed against them have been blown out of proportion, which is wrong in a sense).

    Dylan, I think you have realised this as well, and maybe this is your biggest criticism of AC. I do, however, have two comments on this. The first is that it is essentially impossible to come to a constructive solution at all in these issues. Individuals at the top level of the political ladder, who have much more clout, who know much more about politics, economics, psychology, and pretty much anything else relevant to this issue still have not come up with this “constructive solution” of which you speak. UWC idealism continues to surprise me because, while it is great for us to want to arrive at a solution, it is important to understand that all the knowledge of the Israeli and Palestinian students, as well as the west asian history teachers, pales in comparison to all the knowledge that is necessary in order for this problem to even be approached (in fact, I would posit that nobody knows enough to attempt a potentially viable solution). So, while it is interesting to discuss possible solutions, you should never hope to arrive at one.

    This leads to the second comment which is that you should take advantage of what AC has to offer. I don’t know how many Israeli-Palestinian students you have this year, but you have a lot to learn from them that you could never learn from a textbook. What you can learn from a book or from a class is the historical background, the economic problems, the cultural divisions, the importance of religion, etc. However, what you can’t read, what is much better communicated verbally, are the feelings of such people. Maybe the students from these areas know all the facts that you could read in a book, but why should they waste their time telling you when you could learn it yourself? You should learn from what they alone can communicate, because you have such a limited time to do it. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were conversations about an individual’s culture, but not about their culture in itself; these conversations were about how they emotionally viewed my culture, and how views of people from all corners of the world are so unimaginably different. It was only after I left AC that I really began to understand how important that was, because there is just not any comparison to it in a large Canadian university. So, learn about their emotions rather than facts about a certain area, even though both are interesting – you have the rest of your life to learn anything you want about any part of the world (yay for internet!), but you only have to years to learn why all this information is really important.

    Anyway, I very much enjoyed your article, and I look forward to your next publication!

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