A panel was held Thursday, Nov. 9 on the historical and political factors behind the current Israel-Palestine conflict in Gaza that began last month.
The panel lasted from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and was held in the Dauphin Humanities Center. It was sponsored by the Shippensburg University History/Philosophy and Political Science departments as well as the International Studies Program.
The discussion’s four speakers were professor Mireille Rebeiz, professor Robert Shaffer, professor Brian Ulrich and professor David Weaver. Each speaker comes from an academic background that focuses on history, culture or politics, especially relating to Middle Eastern affairs. The panel was moderated by professor Jonathan Skaff, the director of International Studies.
Much like the “Trump on Trial” Symposium hosted by the criminal justice department in September, each of the four speakers was given roughly 10 minutes to explain their thoughts on the conflict in the Gaza Strip from their unique academic perspectives. After the speakers gave their thoughts, the floor was opened to questions.
With headlines across the world discussing the actions taken by the Israeli government and the Islamist group Hamas in the violent, devastating conflict in Gaza, many students and members of the local community came to the discussion to improve their understanding of the war or to consider new perspectives. The focus of the speakers was about the historical and political reasons for why this war is taking place and the consequences it has on both the Israeli and Palestinian populations.
Ulrich, who specializes in Middle Eastern history, spoke first. According to Ulrich, the war in Gaza traces its origins to the rise of Zionism, the belief that the Jewish people should have a state of their own located in what is now Israel, and Palestinian nationalism, which was developed in resistance to Zionism. Ulrich noted that attempts at creating a peaceful two-state solution in the area throughout the 20th century have not been successful because of a series of failed negotiations by both sides.
The next speaker was Shaffer, who specializes in United States foreign policy. As such, most of his discussion was on the relationship between Israel and the U.S. While the U.S. officially follows a policy of brokering peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine, Shaffer suggests that the actions taken by the U.S. government continue to be strongly in favor of Israel and that most of the world sees the U.S. as complicit in the Israeli refusal toward working for a two-state solution. Shaffer added that Israel is the top recipient of US foreign aid, with most of the aid going toward the Israeli military.
Third to speak was Weaver, who specializes in U.S. military history. Weaver, who is a U.S. Army veteran, broke the conflict down into three segments: strategic, operational and tactical. Weaver explained how Israel and Hamas are trying to achieve their goals. For Israel, the mission is to cut Gaza in half before surrounding and engaging Hamas in urban centers. For Hamas, the mission is to fight an unconventional war by using underground tunnels and hiding soldiers among the civilian population.
Weaver suggested that the reason there is such a high degree of brutality is because Gaza City, an already tightly compacted city, is mostly rubble from airstrikes, making ground warfare exceptionally dangerous.
The last speaker was Rebeiz, who specializes in war trauma studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Rebeiz, who has a personal connection to the conflict as a Lebanese American, used her time to discuss the impact of the war on the well-being of civilians who live in the region. According to Rebeiz, the people of Gaza have been living in what human rights groups call an “open air prison.” She noted that the Israeli government has prevented humanitarian aid such as food and doctors from entering the region, which violates international law. She also highlighted that over 4,000 children have been killed in the fighting.
After the four speakers were finished, the floor was opened to questions. One question that sparked discussion was about the degree to which the conflict was based on religion. According to Shaffer, the Israel-Palestine conflict has become more about religion than before. He suggested that fundamentalist Jewish and conservative Christian groups in the U.S. have taken an even stronger position on supporting Israel.
While each of the four speakers remained hopeful that a peaceful outcome can come out of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the coming months, each agreed that finding peace would be an incredibly difficult task.