In recent years, activists, students, and authors have framed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a simple one. The mantra of a cruel Israeli state oppressing the Palestinians is ubiquitous in many intellectual circles.
Most recently, such arguments were heard in these pages when an author called the Palestinian cause, “the least radical cause in the world.” In recounting his Harvard-organized trip to the West Bank, he depicts Palestinians going about their days scurrying from business meetings to social gatherings and lounging in posh cafes. All that is missing from this picturesque description are cute, wide-eyed children playing soccer and eating candy. His few placid days in Ramallah, we are to believe, make the Palestinian cause entirely just and the Israeli policies entirely unjust.
Unfortunately, conclusions about and solutions to centuries-old conflicts cannot be reached in such a short time.
The vast majority of Palestinians, like the vast majority of Israelis, want to lead normal lives of business meetings, afternoons in cafes, and soccer games. But it is unhelpful and disingenuous to be intentionally simplistic to push a political agenda. It is not just the author who falls into this trap, or walks into it intentionally, but the entire Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement which calls for economic and social isolation of the Jewish state.
I too went on a Harvard-affiliated trip to the Holy Land. We left Logan Airport as 50 strangers and returned from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion united both in friendship and in the conviction that the most dangerous conclusions to draw about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are those that lack nuance.
I knew going into the trip that my pro-Israel sentiments were sure to be challenged. They were. We met with Jewish settlers in the West Bank who reveled in establishing their communities on the land of a future Palestinian state. We listened as an ultra-right Orthodox Jewish leader defended the second-class role many women in his community are relegated to. We heard Netanyahu ally and mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, tell us inside the City Council Chambers that his was a city without walls or divisions. We could all think of one glaring, concrete exception.
This is the paradox the BDS movement attempts to set up for us: a benign, oppressed Palestinian populace held back from their potential and their human rights by the cold, oppressive Israelis. Therefore, they say, Harvard should divest from this apartheid state. The problem, however, is that they purposefully ignore some of the most important components: the ones that don’t fit their ideology.
They deplore the situation in Gaza, yet they ignore that Israel pulled out of Gaza more than a decade ago. They ignore that the Israeli military forcibly removed those Jewish settlers from Gaza who would not leave voluntarily. This same move, to be repeated in the West Bank if the divestment advocates had their way, led to the takeover of the Gaza government by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Instead of a vibrant Palestinian state in Gaza, it is a terrorist haven in which the people are repressed by their fundamentalist rulers. Hamas does not spend the billions it receives in foreign aid on schools or hospitals, but rather on tunnels through which terrorists can attack Israel and cash stipends to incentivize suicide bombers, children included. Why should Israel repeat the mistake in the West Bank?
Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Israel is already surrounded by millions of people who, inspired by their leaders and a perverted version of Islam, hate them. As an Israeli mother told me on our trip, “If the Jews had our way, there would be a Jewish state and a Palestinian state in which we could guarantee our ability to survive. If the Palestinian leaders had their way, there wouldn’t be any Jews left, much less a Jewish state.”
Such fear is understandable. Just listen to the leaders of the country my own family comes from, Iran, who have called Israel a cancer to be “wiped off the map” and “annihilated”. They might know that’s already been tried, but they question the reality of the Holocaust, so fat chance.
There is undoubtedly progress to be made in Israel. In Nazareth, we heard mothers bemoan the inadequate funding given to Arab-Israeli schools compared to Jewish-Israeli schools. There are other such complaints of discrimination. However, unlike Black South Africans, the Palestinians and Arab-Israelis have considerable representation in Israeli institutions. Take for example, Salim Joubran, the Arab-Israeli serving as Vice President of the Israeli Supreme Court. This isn’t just token representation. The Court regularly rules in favor of these minority groups and against the Israeli government. Maybe the BDS movement could remind us how many Black South Africans sat on the Apartheid-era South African Supreme Court?
If the BDS movement is keen on boycotting apartheid states, they should start with Iran or Saudi Arabia. There are oppressed women and LGBTQ+ people who would love to explain what a real apartheid state looks like. Sadly they’re unavailable at the moment, as they are currently imprisoned by their apartheid states.
Despite all of this, the extreme lengths to which Israel has gone to defend itself from perennial rocket fire, exploding school busses, and terrorist massacres may cause Americans to recoil at the limitations placed on the civil liberties of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis. We can still side with liberty over security, as I do, but let’s not pretend these security measures are in place to intentionally hold back the vast majority of peaceful Palestinians. They are to hold back those who would drive the Jews into the sea, given the chance.
Many BDS activists have gone to the Holy Land and returned sages with a simple solution: Israel is the racist, apartheid state. I went to the region and returned with more questions than answers, more assured of the humanity of people on both sides. The only thing of which I am sure on this issue is that so many on the left drastically oversimplify the conflict by lionizing the Palestinians and demonizing Israel.Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 is a government concentrator in Dunster House.
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Professors Support Resolution To Boycott Israeli InstitutionsTwenty-one Harvard faculty and graduate students have voted or signed a petition to place a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions on the American Anthropological Association’s spring ballot.
The Least Radical Cause in the WorldI used to find the word “apartheid” radical, but after visiting the West Bank and seeing the reality with my own eyes, it seems like a more than fair description for a half-century of occupation under these conditions.
Palestine Solidarity Committee Holds 'Israeli Apartheid Week'PSC Co-Vice President Christian B. Tabash ’21 said the week—a national movement among college campuses in the United States—seeks to draw attention to the current state of the Palestinian people.
Toward a Better Israel-Palestine ConversationThe current conversation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both within Harvard’s Jewish and Arab communities and on campus as a whole, lacks nuance.