Matt Blair / The AS Review
After the expiration of a six month long peace treaty on Dec. 19, the Israel-Palestine conflict was thrust once again into the international news cycle, when Hamas, the elected party in Palestine allegedly launched rockets across the Israeli border in protest of upcoming elections in Israel. In response, the Israeli government began launching retaliatory airstrikes into Gaza on Dec. 26.
Amid calls from the international community aimed at both parties to reach an immediate peace agreement, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sent ground troops into Gaza on Jan. 3. As of this Friday, Israeli troops remained entrenched in Gaza and both groups have denied a UN ceasefire proposal. According to figures in the New York Times, posted late last week, over 750 Palestinians have perished in the conflict, 40 percent of whom are reported as women and children, along with 13 Israeli citizens, including 3 civilians.
Fighting in this area is nothing new. This particular conflict between Israel and Palestine far predates this skirmish, but stems largely from the 27-year Israeli occupation of Gaza, which ended in 1994. Most recently, the two nations battled over the land in 2006.
Until Jan. 4, the Israeli government was not allowing foreign reporters into Gaza. This fact was somewhat alarming to Kamran Rahman, director of Western's Muslim Student Association. He feared that the Israeli government could be preventing the media from showing the Palestinian perspective, in the hopes of controlling the news flow.
“I was very upset [about journalists being barred from Gaza], because the views were being skewed,” Rahman said. “You can't go as a foreign reporter into Gaza, so you're only getting one story that has been deliberately prepared.”
He also believes that Israel is using excessive force and is unfairly creating a blockade on all supplies entering Gaza.
“Logically, the disproportionate amount of force by Israel is unfair,” Rahman said. “They [Israel] know when you drop bombs onto a highly populated, 8-mile stretch of land, you're bound to hit civilians. In a normal war, both sides are able to gain weapons, food and supplies, but Israel controls the movement of all of these things.”
Rahman also feels that long-lasting peace will only come once both Israel and Palestine are prepared to work together and recognize Palestine's legitimacy to stay in Gaza.
“I believe the only way to achieve peace is a through a two-state solution and to return the 1967 land,” he said. “With a stabilized region, I think Palestinians can achieve a lot.”
Like Rahman, junior Adi Kletter, cofounder of Vikings Community for Israel Awareness, had an immediate reaction upon hearing about the news in Gaza; she feared for her loved ones.
Kletter, whose parents emigrated to America from Israel, has friends currently serving in the IDF. When the conflict broke out, she was sure that her friends would be called to fight. Though she confesses that war scares her, she feels that Israel's response is necessary given the actions of Hamas.
“I felt that [Israel] is just in its response to the Palestinian rockets,” Kletter said. “Obviously Israel can't sit around and continue waiting to be attacked.”
She also asserted that both Palestinian and Israeli stubbornness is one of the largest obstacles facing peace in the Middle East.
“Peace has to come when both governments are ready, and I don't think Hamas is prepared to negotiate,” Kletter said. “Violence does not cause peace. Hamas will not be defeated since they are so entrenched in the civilian populace. The Israeli military won't be defeated because it is fully supported as a nation itself. Peace will not happen unless there is a will for it on both sides.”
Kletter was apprehensive about whether international sanctions would end rocket attacks from Hamas. Previous U.S. sanctions have been ineffective. At the same time, Kletter feels that appeasing the Palestinian government will also fail to show results.
“If a two state solution would solve the problem and if giving back [Gaza] brings peace, then I'm all for it,” Kletter said. “But I believe if we give Hamas a little bit, they'll only want more.”
The conflict is also close to home for Rabbi Levi Backman, co-director of WWU's Chabad House. Backman recalled, from his various trips to Israel, an organized country with democratic Western values. He feels that many people have misperceptions about the frequency and cause of violence, which is incorrectly portrayed by the mainstream media.
Though he is always prepared to share his personal knowledge and opinions, Backman maintains that the Chabad House respectfully chooses not to get involved in the political discussion beyond providing insight and information about Judaism for interested students.
“Considering that I am a rabbi and not a military commander, I don't think that it is my place to decide what should or should not be the correct strategy, or even to analyze it,” Backman said. “As a rabbi, it is my place to encourage us to love one another, and be kind to one another, to learn about each others' cultures and heritage, to teach and learn morals and ethics and to pray for an end of terror and bloodshed and for the peace and safety of all the innocent Palestinian and Israeli people.”
Backman also assured students that the Chabad house would always be open to hearing different perspectives and reinforced that education is the best way to find a solution to the complex political problems facing the Middle East.
“When it comes to Israel, you have to dig deeper and learn more,” Backman said. “This [Chabad house] is not a political center. This place has to be a safe haven. It has to be a place where all students are comfortable.”
Little things, like offering time to take care of others, are the key to creating an environment of peace and coexistence, said Backman.
“Ultimately, what we want is peace, solidarity and an end to violence,” Backman said.
Still, Rahman doubts that many Americans will become active and ready to clean up the region. He feels that the negative stereotypes surrounding Muslims have slowly started dissipating, but like some previous world events, Rahman is concerned that this conflict will fade from our nation's collective conscience.
“I think the image of Muslims has settled a bit,” Rahman said. “But we do things [in America] and forget about them like they're yesterday's news. Our media and our society can never finish a job. We never caught Osama bin Laden after 9/11, we still haven't beat al-Qaeda and many Americans aren't even aware that we have troops still stationed in Afghanistan. It's like we just forget.”