November 19, 2012

Editorial: Drowning Out Discourse on Gaza

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On Monday, students representing two very conflicting interests met on Ho Plaza to express their competing views on the current violence raging in Israel and Gaza. What ensued was a sloppy, cacophonous and overwhelmingly frustrating affair that did both sides a disservice.Students supporting Israel stood in a circle of whirling flags and blue posters. They stood by the Cornell store and spoke through a P.A. system in the direction of Willard Straight Hall. Directly in front of the Israeli students, students supporting the Palestinians stood and spoke through a bullhorn, also in the direction of the Straight. The protesters’ amplified voices mashed against each other and filled the plaza with mostly inaudible garble for the better part of an hour.For the hour or so the event lasted, barely a moment passed where each side did not simply try to outdo the other when it came to who could be the loudest, angriest and most alienating presence on the plaza. As a result, neither side was heard.Two groups, fighting over the same small bit of land, arguing over who had the proper permit allowing them to be there, zealotry abounding. Sound familiar?We are not naive; we understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not one that engenders reasoned discourse. However, we implore both sides to stop trying to shout over each other and consider that radicalism does little more than turn observers off to both sides.We would be shocked if a single student’s mind was changed today.The students supporting Israel brandished Hillel sanctioned signs reading, “Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.” The students’ statements, however, made it exceptionally clear that “wherever we stand” really did not mean much more than that they stood in unquestioning support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military action.Those signs made clear that the many students who are opposed to the Israeli government’s actions, but are otherwise supporters of Israel and its people, are not welcome in the greater Jewish presence on campus.Furthermore, the Israeli supporters’ insistence that they stand for “peace,” a constant theme in their chanting, is tenuous at best.Israel’s stated objective is to halt the rocket attacks Hamas is firing. One would be hard pressed to find a legitimate observer of this conflict who believes that the current violence will yield any such result in the medium or long-term future of the region. As Jeffrey Goldberg, a steadfast supporter of Israel, wrote last week of the conflict with Hamas, “There is no way out of this militarily [for Israel].” Today’s bloodshed will only beget tomorrow’s bloodshed.However, the Palestinian supporters, while being less unified in their messaging were similarly indulgent in the display of demagoguery.Students brandished a large banner decrying Zionism, denouncing the very notion of Israel’s right to exist, a sentiment as frustrating and unproductive as any displayed on the other side of the protest.Hamas is as guilty an actor as any in this conflict. They launch rockets indiscriminately and shelter their fighters in civilian populations. We find little sympathy for those who argue against Israel’s aggression without recognizing the culpability of Hamas in this conflict.They are a terrorist organization whose missiles force innocent Israelis to spend days upon days tortured by the screams of air raid sirens.Both sides of Monday’s protest treated Cornell to a display of why the conflict in Israel feels so especially hopeless right now. It would be foolhardy to ask either side to listen to each other; opinions are too hardened for that. But please, as observers who see this conflict in shades of gray, and not black and white, at least let us listen.