Thursday, February 19, 2009

Harvard Gaza panel decries Israeli aggression

Looks at Israeli elections as cause of conflict, debates future U.S. involvement in peace process
Chris Szabla, Harvard Law Record, February 19, 2009

As Israel's general elections ended in a dead heat last week, Langdell South filled to capacity to hear a panel of academics speak on the causes and consequences of the most recent outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence, highlighted by Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip. Much of the discussion drew on the topicality of the Israeli elections and their impact on the conflict. The crowded event was also taken as a sort of litmus test on the Harvard community's opinions on events in the Mideast; Harvard Law Professor Duncan Kennedy remarked that he believed a cultural shift had taken place within the liberal intelligentsia, and that pro-Palestinian positions had become more mainstream among the American elite.

Former Simmons College professor Elaine Hagopian, Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies fellow (and native Gazan) Husain Zomlot, and Kennedy were on hand to offer their explanations, in a discussion moderated by HLS Justice for Palestine co-chair Shannon Erwin '10.

The discussion began with a brief historical exposition by Hagopian, who described Gaza, a territory one-tenth the size of Rhode Island, as a "powder-keg of bitterness", and revived memories of early links between Israeli policy and the rise Hamas, which the former nurtured in the 1980s at secular rival Fatah's expense. Hagopian went on to argue that, while "Israel did not defeat Hamas convincingly", its strategy vis-à-vis the Islamist party was to hold back aid, much as it did when it wanted to break Fatah once again, in 2002.

"A state of utter madness"

Zomlot's take on the consequences of the war were similarly ambiguous and resigned. He noted that, even after the end of Israel's "Operation Cast Lead," Hamas was still firing rockets and enjoying soaring popularity, an "axis of opposition" to Israel's actions had expanded to include Turkey and Qatar, and Israel's moral capital had been stretched to the maximum, although Hamas was "still not recognized by the main players in the international community".

For Gazans, Zomlot said, the immediate consequences were much more clear. Inside the territory, there was an "utter state of destruction. It's going to take generations to rebuild the infrastructure". He also described an "unprecedented" state of polarization in Palestinian society, which he saw as an outgrowth of longstanding Israeli policy - as a student at Bir Zeit University, Zomlot was unable to leave the West Bank to visit his mother in Gaza, an hour away. He feared a continuing process of "cantonization" of the West Bank, which would mean that "exactly what happened between the West Bank and Gaza would happen between Ramallah and Nablus".

Finally, Zomlot defended the use of tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border to supply the territory with food or medicine. It was "a very human act when you are imprisoned…to find alternatives," to starvation and disease, he suggested.

Read the full article online

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