On Thursday, February 4, the Goucher community welcomed an Israeli, Dr. Gershon Baskin, and a Palestinian, Professor Mohammad Dajani Daoudi, to campus to discuss the much-debated Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event, Perspectives for Progress, was student-organized with the help of Stacy Cooper Patterson. Perspectives for Progress differed from previous events on this topic because it was sponsored by the Social Justice Committee, and not by a group that already held an ascribed set of beliefs on the conflict.
“There were a fair amount of hoops to jump through to get Dr. Baskin and Professor Dajani here,” said Esther Grossman ’18, a student who organized the event. She talked to a few faculty members to help find speakers, and ultimately. Dr. Baskin recommended Prof. Dajani join him. Once the speakers were selected, Grossman invited Marykate Malone ’16 and Yael Ben-Chaim ’16 to help her plan the event.
Dr. Baskin is the co-director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Palestinian and Israeli “think” and “do” tank located in Jerusalem, and serves on the boards of other joint Israeli-Palestinian initiatives. Professor Dajani is a peace activist and scholar, and former professor of political science at Al-Quds University- Abu Dis Campus in East Jerusalem. He is also the founder of Wasatia (Arabic for “moderation”) Reconciliation Center that promotes nonviolence and tolerance in Palestinian territories.
At the event, each man spoke for about 30 minutes, and then they both took questions from audience members. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially a conflict between two national movements: the Zionist movement representing the Jewish people, and the Palestinian National Movement, representing the Palestinian people, for a territorial expression of identity,” Baskin said in his opening statement. Baskin went on to give big-picture, historical context about the conflict, focusing on major events in the conflict’s history, such as the Oslo Accords.
“This is not a religious conflict…it is a political, territorial, identity conflict, with very serious overtones and undertones of religion,” Baskin said. He explained that the conflict is over land and identity, not Jews against Muslims.
Baskin criticized the current Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that there is a “crisis of leadership” in Israel, and reminding the audience that in the spring of 2015, Netanyahu claimed, “there will be no Palestine.”
“The only way that you can be pro-Israel…is by being pro-Palestine also…I am a proud Israeli, a Jew, a Zionist, and I am pro-Palestinian. Because nothing else makes sense,” Baskin stated at the end of his talk.
While Baskin discussed the macro aspects of the conflict, Dajani took a different angle, by focusing on the micro-perspective, and talked about personal stories that connected to his family. He explained that when his father was receiving cancer treatment at an Israeli hospital, he noticed many Palestinian patients in the hospital being seen by Israeli doctors. “They [the doctors] were not looking at him [his father] as an Arab, as a Muslim, as a Palestinian…but as a patient…This opened my eyes to the other, to see humanity in the other” Dajani said.
Most recently, Dajani is known for taking Palestinian students from the university where he worked on a trip to Auschwitz in March of 2014. This is something he was widely criticized and threatened for doing, as teaching about the Holocaust in Palestinian schools is viewed as treason. Dajani lead this trip in order to teach his students to “better understand the other.”
Often, the Holocaust is compared to the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), which is the name Palestinians use to refer to the war in 1948 that Israelis call the War of Independence. Dajani said this comparison of the two events is problematic, as they are not the same.
“To the Jew, the Holocaust ended in 1945. To the Palestinian, the Nakba continues to this very day,” said Dajani. He named the occupation of Palestinian land, checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel, and Palestinian isolation as reasons as to how the Nakba continues today.
“Professor Dajani’s story about how ‘understanding the other’ helped unlock the good inside him really affected me…[he] really impacted me by showing how you cannot fully understand or be informed on a conflict unless you understand your enemy,” said Liam Gandelsman ’16, an Israeli-American.
At a time when this conflict is a point of contention at Goucher, “it seemed necessary that an intellectual platform was offered on this topic,” said Grossman. “After the chaos of last semester, I felt that in order for students to educate themselves and begin to understand the conflict in all of its complexities, they needed to hear as many perspectives on the topic from as many places as possible,” she added.
The event was not able to meet everyone’s needs. “The event wasn’t controversial- for the first time two men, each from the two countries in the conflict, agreed on peace and a two state solution. Unfortunately, I think many Goucher students didn’t show up for that reason- a lot of us want to continue our polarized fight, and talk of solution doesn’t ignite the fire we so depend on when we enter a dialogue,” commented Natalie Dibo ‘16.
“…there was no discussion,” said Sammy Eisenberg ’16, co-President of Hillel. “We need more discussion. It was so powerful [before the event] for 20 minutes, and then had to shift gears to a lecture. I found that frustrating.”
For students who feel there is a lack of discussion on this conflict, Grossman is hoping to plan more events about Israel and Palestine throughout the semester. Grossman welcomes students and community members to email her with feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.