March 3, 2009

Israeli Palestinian Conflict Article Followup

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When writing last week’s article about the Swiss perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was a little difficult finding people who were native to Switzerland because it is populated with people from all over the globe. In my article, there are only two native Swiss people present and even then, they have exposure to many different cultures and ways of thinking.

However, the population’s make-up ultimately contributed to a richer understanding how other parts of the world perceive the conflict. I am very grateful that I work at a place like the International Labour Organisation and just Geneva in general because people from all regions of the globe also work there, providing a multifaceted outlook to different social, political and economic issues.

One of the girls I interviewed, Marion, was an intern from the ILO who grew up in Geneva her entire life. I found her through one of my fellow Cornellians also working at the ILO.

When I talked to the girl from Uzbekistan, I had no idea that she had lived in the Israel last year. She just moved to Geneva and I knew her from my friend’s mom who works at the WHO.

I selected a popular bar in Geneva to some feedback outside of UN organizations.

Of course, one of the biggest limitations of the article is that all of the people interviewed are between the ages of 22 to 30. The article really represents the viewpoint of young people and not older generations, but that was the point. When the editors assigned this article to us, the point of the article was to look at how young people responded to the conflict, realizing that in a few years they will be the ones making decisions and determining the future.

But it is a little scary now to think that young people are treading dangerously close to the same line of thinking that our predecessors used to justify the conflict. At college campuses across the nations, not just Cornell, some students of both Jewish and Arabic-Muslim descent are fanning the flames of intolerance that previous generations had clung to for years.

In this context, the Swiss approach to examining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be the right one. Aporta said that in addition to looking at the entire history of the conflict, most Swiss people are inclined to use international standards of law to determine whether an action is justifiable or not. Considering that Switzerland is home to dozens of international organizations that try to foster peace, this makes sense. (Admittedly, many of these organizations have also come under fire for advancing the interests of the Western world.)

Aporta said that for many people in Switzerland, Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense depends on whether they have jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip. If they do have jurisdiction, then they are in the clear. But this issue is not clear cut because Israel withdrew from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. But as a result, the Palestinian Authority assumed sovereign control of the area. In 2009, the ICC provided the PA with an official letter confirming it had jurisdiction.

Despite this, Israel still controls the flow of water into Gaza and the land that borders it. These conditions enabled Israel to place embargoes on Gaza that prevented fuel and water from entering into the country.

So in light of this situation, Israel may find itself under investigation for war crimes committed in Gaza, since they technically do not have jurisdiction in the area. If Israel did have jurisdiction, then there would be no case.

This is something that is seldom brought to light in the US. One thing that I learned from writing this article is how much emphasis people place on international customary law in Europe. It is a lot more difficult to keep your head in the dark when every country is surrounded by a different nation that has its own culture, language and history. All of the people I interviewed viewed the situation not just from one perspective, but from multiple. Americans would be wise to perhaps think of the other side from time to time too.