The recent war that has broken out between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups has left millions across the globe shocked, devastated and angry. In particular, the surprise attacks led by Hamas out of the Gaza Strip that took place on Oct. 7 gained global attention, leading to disagreement fighting among those that have been impacted by the conflict across the world.
On Nov. 28, the university held a panel discussion moderated by Alice Ba, acting chair and professor of international relations and comparative politics. The panel was titled, “The War in Gaza: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Four faculty experts were invited to talk about the current situation in the area and answer questions from the audience.
After summarizing the panel’s purpose, Ba introduced the first speaker: associate professor of political science Daniel Green. According to Green, the conflict is a tragedy made worse by “hardliners” on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides who are not open to a two-state solution.
“Both Palestinians and Israelis have a right to have a country,” Green said during the panel.
The “hardliners” Green referred to include the far-right Israeli side, which has been taking bits of territory in the West Bank, as well as groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement who refuse to even speak the word “Israel,” instead calling it a “Zionist entity.”
The strife between Israel and Palestine is not a new phenomenon, however. Groups from both sides have expressed aggression towards each other, and the desire to dismiss the existence of the other side has been growing in the past 25 years, according to Green.
As for a solution to this division, Green highlighted the peace process idea, which has been ongoing since the 1990s but was ultimately sabotaged by assassinations, bombings and attacks from both sides.
In Green’s opinion, the peace process can never be successful without what he calls the “perfect storm.”
“There has to be a Palestinian leader that is willing to make compromises, willing to make a deal,” Green said. “On the Israeli side, there has to be an Israeli leader that’s willing to engage with the Palestinians, entertain the idea of a two-state solution and have a deal. And there has to be an American president who is willing to basically force the situation together, broker the deal, throw money at the situation.”
This perfect storm of leaders coming together to make a deal on a two-state solution is highly unlikely, according to Green.
He noted how this is largely due to the distrust present on both sides, with the Israelis believing Palestine would turn on them and attack after reaching a deal and the Palestinians believing Israel was never serious about achieving a two-state solution in the first place.
Green made the point that the Middle East is not a territory that necessarily follows international law due to its frequent violence. While he suggests implementing an international legal solution from the outside, Green expressed how he is not optimistic about this idea occurring.
The backstory of the conflict
Stuart Kaufman, another speaker on the panel and a professor of political science, took a different approach that reflects more on the emotions of the conflict and the reasons why people on each side act the way they do.
“The way that I suggest that we think about the issue in the Middle East is to recognize first of all that we’re in pain,” Kaufman said.
Specifically noted by Kaufman were the personal ties many people across the globe have to those in the region, whether it be through family, religion or personal identity. He also described how the combination of distress, anger and fear can lead to outrage when mixed with moralizing.
Kaufman encouraged the audience to recognize that neither side is completely in the right, arguing that both sides have committed wrongs.
“The way to help is, if you identify with one side, challenge your own side’s justifications for committing atrocities,” Kaufman said.
According to Kaufman, both groups have committed crimes against humanity, and opposing leaders have been manipulating emotions to gain support for their actions. He also noted how this emotional engagement makes it harder for people to think clearly, which in turn makes it easier to call out only one side.
Kaufman said that when someone identifies closely with one party, it is easy to conclude the opposition is in the wrong and deserves equal retaliation. However, he urged attendees of the discussion to realize that those in power on both sides have been fighting to “get rid of the other.”
“Neither side deserves solidarity,” Kaufman said. “Sympathy, yes, solidarity, no. The leaders on both sides are war criminals with genocidal hands.”
Ramifications in the United States
After Kaufman’s words, professor of political science Muqtedar Khan spoke about the political implications of the war in Gaza, specifically how the United States has reacted. He recalled that people were angry with President Joe Biden over his response to the issue, some even expressing their anger by calling Biden “Genocide Joe.”
“The U.S. is losing credibility very fast,” Khan said, referencing how the country has been slow to recognize that what is occurring in Gaza constitutes war crimes, according to the professor.
Khan also called out the Biden administration and blamed it for protecting the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“In defense of Israel, the United States is becoming an illiberal state,” Khan said. “We are going to destroy our own democracy, we are going to destroy our international law, to ensure that Netanyahu is not prosecuted for war crimes.”
Khan discussed how this has led to the near destruction of international law, and how this can have consequences for Biden in the upcoming 2024 presidential election.
Khan explained how states such as Michigan have high Arab and Muslim populations. He said many of these citizens are determined not to vote for Biden in the election if he does not call for a ceasefire.
Khan challenged those who use mental health as an argument to excuse criminals like school shooters in the U.S., but not as an excuse for others. Khan said the question of mental health is often not raised for Palestinians, many of whom have been living in oppressive conditions for years.
“Why don’t you factor in the consequence of systematic oppression for decades?” Khan said.
The war’s impact on humans
The last speaker on the panel was Alice Verticelli, assistant professor of political science who also researches migration studies. She guided the audience’s attention to the human aspect of the issue and specifically spoke about the displacement and lack of resources citizens are facing.
Verticelli stated that she wished to look at the war in terms of how humans are being impacted. She explained how parts of history have played an important role in shaping the present situation.
The count of internal displaced persons in Gaza is 1.9 million out of a population of 2.3 million.
The Hamas massacre on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians. The Palestinian casualty count is currently above 15,000 as of Nov. 28 according to the government’s media office. Of that total, over 6,000 are children.
The lack of food, water and fuel has led to a “humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented proportions,” according to Verticelli.
She discussed the legal issues surrounding the displacement of Palestinians and specifically noted a paper that came to the Israeli intelligence ministry that listed possible scenarios for Gazans, the top choice being displacement into the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
“From a legal perspective … this is very problematic because Egypt is not exactly what would be defined as a so-called safe third country that would be able to take in refugees,” Verticelli said. “Fattah al-Sisi, the dictator in Egypt, is not exactly a champion of democracy and human rights.”
Verticelli then noted the issue of the right of return for Palestinians and parties involved in the matter. For Palestinians, it is an inalienable right, just as the right to sovereignty and to an independent state, according to Verticelli. For Israelis, however, the stance differs.
“The issue of refugees is an issue that should be addressed in a future settlement of the conflict,” Verticelli said in terms of the Israeli stance.
Each speaker of the panel displayed differing points of view over varying matters regarding the war in Gaza. With mixed feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment, each professor expressed the grave circumstances innocent civilians are facing from both sides.
According to Kaufman, these are largely due to issues in leadership, which people across the globe can individually push back against as opposed to blaming one another.
“Instead, denounce both sides’ goals of oppression, ethnic cleansing and genocide,” Kaufman said.