February 20, 2009

Panelists Examine Motivations Behind Middle East Conflicts

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Kaufman Auditorium was packed last night for a panel discussion focusing on the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip, featuring Prof. David Patel, government, Prof. Matthew Evangelista government, and Prof. Sanford Gutman, near eastern studies.
The discussion began with opening remarks from both the Islamic Alliance for Justice. and Cornell Hillel. Both groups expressed optimism about the discussion and their hopes for a more constructive exchange of opinions. However, the IAJ also voiced concern over their recent representation in campus media.
“The IAJ does not support the way in which it has been represented in campus media in the past two weeks. Members of the IAJ have been exploited and quoted to fulfill what seems to be an alternate agenda,” said Tara Malik ’09, President of IAJ. [img_assist|nid=35397|title=The Gaza Controversy on Campus|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“However, despite this we do join the Cornell Daily Sun, as well as Hillel and CIPAC in an honest and genuine gesture to allow a constructive dialogue about what has happened but also about the issues of the Middle East crisis in general,” she added.
Patel, the first speaker, who teaches a class on Middle Eastern politics, discussed the reasoning behind the rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
“Why did Hamas dramatically increase its rocket attacks in the last month? Some people say this was resistance, true resistance … maybe Hamas wanted to provoke disproportionate attacks that would radicalize moderates,” Patel said.
“Why did Israel respond the way it did, if Hamas was seeking retaliation? They targeted pro-Hamas Universities, Coastal Patrols, and Hamas leaders’ homes. They targeted civilian police in Gaza … now that’s puzzling. That accounts for a lot of the casualties,” he added.
Patel went on to explore some of the many different possible answers that have been given to his questions.
“Maybe they were trying to change the security crisis in the south … or set up a system of credible deterrents. Maybe that’s it; they were trying to punish Hamas. Maybe this was aboutupcoming Hamas elections. Maybe this was about Kadima and the Labor Party. Maybe they were trying to eradicate Hamas,” Patel said.
However, Patel felt that the strongest argument for Israel’s reasoning behind their invasion of Gaza lies with Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
“I think, perhaps, and this has been overlooked by people … that Israel was trying to evoke retaliation in Fatah against Hamas. That seems to be the best evidence for why Israel did what it did,” Patel said.
Patel closed his remarks by offering an explanation behind the bias and controversy that has surrounded the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“People come at it with a certain idea and then pick the evidence they want that supports their ideas,” Patel said.
Gutman pointed out the interesting link between the recent conflict and the American presidential election.
“I do think both Israeli and American elections played a role in explaining when the attacks took place. The invasion took place after the American elections but before the new administration took power. This was very important to the Israeli cabinet’s decision making. They wanted to do this while the Bush administration was still in power because the administration was very sympathetic to Israel … it’s interesting that hostilities ceased on the day the Obama administration came to power,” Gutman said.
The final speaker, Evangelista, explored the possibility of war crimes committed by both sides in the recent months.
“It’s worth pointing out that reason; that we can make a charge of terrorism or war crimes because of the randomness of the rocket attacks … Charges of war crimes have also been leveled on Israel due to the disproportionate number of casualties,” he said.
During a question and answer session, one of the speakers explained his perplexity over the popularity of this heated topic.
“It puzzles me why so many people come out to a talk on this topic but not, let’s say, a talk on the situation in the Congo. Why is it that when we say ‘Middle East conflict’, we automatically think of this one?” Patel asked.
A prospective question was asked towards the end of the discussion panel, requesting the speakers to offer their opinions about the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think the movement is towards a two-state solution. I do not think that will change, but I do not see it happening within the next 20 years,” Patel said.
At the end of the discussion, members of all organizations involved felt that the panel was very successful.
“It was definitely more cautionary, more factually based and more objective. Although, I do feel that people may have been afraid to speak,” said Khullat Munir ’09, a member of the IAJ.
“It’s a smack over the head saying, ‘Wake up, these are the issues.’ Overall, I thought the discussion was very successful and we should have them more often, it was a very positive contribution to campus dialogue,” said Amy Pearlman ’09, former president of Cornell Hillel.
Most agreed that last night’s discussion, sponsored by the Cornell Daily Sun, Cornell Hillel, Islamic Alliance for Justice and the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, contained a more balanced and civil expression of opinion in comparison to Wednesday night’s Gaza in Crisis discussion panel.
“Tonight’s panel comes in sharp contrast to yesterday’s discussion. Yesterday, the Cornell community saw a conversation that was driven by emotions and not rational interpretations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such a dialogue is counterproductive. In contrast, tonight’s event approached the conflict in a much more academic and productive manner. Instead of taking sides, the professors sought to understand the various discourses of the conflict,” said Adam Baratz ’11.