Top Israeli and Palestinian officials are supposed to come to the bargaining table Tuesday, but once again peace seems to be just out of reach.
Israel, bolstered by a massive campaign to discredit Yasir Arafat as an acceptable negotiating partner, is making a last minute attempt to back out of the talks.
Drawing on evidence seized during recent raids, Israel claims it cannot logically be expected to deal with someone who explicitly supports and approves of terrorist acts. To do so, Israel feels, would be an unendurable injustice.
This is ridiculous. While the Israeli government is right that suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism are unspeakably atrocious and indefensible, the solution is not to claim absolute moral superiority and refuse to negotiate.
I don’t say this to be pro-Palestinian. In fact, I think Arafat has arguably done more to hurt the Palestinian cause over the years than the Israeli Defense Force has. Leaders on both sides of the conflict have a long history of assuming complete moral superiority and self-righteously refusing to compromise. Israel may be the one holding up the peace process today, but Palestine has done the same before, most notably when Arafat rejected the rejected the Camp David proposal, and will probably do so again.
In fact, both leaders on both sides have stalled and undermined peace so many times their narrow-mindedness and intolerance surprise no one anymore.
However, while this may be the norm in the Middle East, I expected better in Madison.
I thought here at UW-Madison people would be more open-minded. I thought political disagreements would take the backseat to more important things, that people could put aside their ideological differences in pursuit of the one the thing that really matters–stopping the killing and hatred and creating a lasting peace.
Unfortunately, I thought wrong.
Last week, Espresso Royale Caffe hosted an art exhibit featuring works by Palestinian children depicting their experiences growing up in a war zone, most of which had an unmistakably anti-Israeli slant. This show sparked a number of extreme, often contradictory responses from students.
Many pro-Israeli students said they were offended by the art and took it as a personal attack and declaration of enmity; they are considering boycotting the coffee shop.
“The IDF is not targeting [Palestinian children] or any other Palestinian civilians,” one letter to the editor said. “The people who target civilians are Palestinian terrorists ? they blow up Israelis on the street and brainwash their own people to believe the state of Israel is at fault. ”
The writer then went on to insist the “ignorant statements” of the exhibit’s organizers “should not be acknowledged.”
Conversely, many pro-Palestinian students said they were pleased with the exhibit’s ability to “promote dialogue.”
However, they seemed to think the definition of “dialogue” was complete, unequivocal condemnation of the IDF for its brutal occupation of Palestinian territories.
“Anyone . . . cannot help but oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian society and moral,” one student wrote.
It doesn’t take a detailed understanding of the conflict’s intricacies to realize that both these letters smack more of narrow-minded self-victimization than of reality. What’s I find startling is that the extremist attitudes present in these letters are becoming more and more prevalent on campus.
Almost every week there is a rally calling for “peace” in the Middle East on Library Mall. While this may sound nice in theory, a closer inevitably reveals that these rallies aren’t calling for widespread, collective peace, but for decisive, crushing victories for either Israel or Palestine.
And reportedly, one UW political-science professor who formerly taught Middle-Eastern politics swore he would never teach the subject after being yelled at after lecture every day by both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students who couldn’t bear to listen to both sides of the story.
Why would so many smart college students–many of whom are among the first to criticize the blind patriotism sweeping post-Sept. 11 patriotism–be silly enough to buy into such blatantly one-sided propaganda?
UW can do better than this. Instead of calling each other names and refusing to hear alternate viewpoints, we need to be willing to talk rationally and listen to each other so that the truth can be found. Instead of rallying separately “for Israel” or “for Palestine,” we need to come together and rally for peace and an end to the killing–on both sides. Instead of anger and embitterment, we need to turn our passion into constructiveness.
After all, how can we expect the leaders in the Middle East to create peace if we can’t even create peace amongst ourselves on campus?
Kristin Wieben (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sophomore majoring in political science and French.