The question Palestine and Israel: Peace or Perpetual Conflict? prompted strong questions and responses from staff, students and community members on Wednesday, who crowded into Xavier Hall to hear Consul General Akiva Tor and California State University at Stanislaus politics professor As’ad AbuKhalil extrapolated on the current crisis between the two warring countries.
The structure of the discussion lent itself to a debate rather than a stifled academic lecture style talk. The format allowed each speaker 20 minutes to present information and background history and then they had a five minute time to issue a rebuttal. In addition, a 40 minute period was added to elicit questions and comments from the audience. Tor began by defending Israel’s past attacks on Palestinian territory. Of the six day war in 1967, he said that it was “a pre-emptive strike (by Israel) in self-defense.” Although Tor has hope that a peaceful resolution can be made, he expressed doubt in individual negotiations between the two countries. He said, “Palestinian politics are in disarray.” Citing the Oslo Accords which were signed by then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993 (for which they both won the Nobel Peace Prize), Tor argued that a peaceful resolution can be reached when the right political players are involved. He said, “There will be peace. I don’t know when, but there will be.”
AbuKhalil countered by saying that Tor’s argument was part of a “well-funded propaganda campaign by Israel.” He pointed out that attacks on Palestinians preceded the six day war, thus the violence initiated by Israeli was not part of a pre-emptive strike, like Tor had stated. AbuKhalil pointed holes in Tor’s version of the history of the conflict by recounting Israel’s occupation of multiple territories, like Tunisia, Sudan, and Egypt, and the atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers that guard the border. He said, “They (Israelis) conveniently talk about peace while their soldiers kill Palestinian civilians.” AbuKhalil did not seem to foresee a resolution to the conflict that has continued for over fifty years. The audience applaused as he said, “I believe in all forms of boycott against the state of Israel. We (the United States) should boycott the state of Israel. We should not negotiate with terrorists.” In response to the audience, Tor said “I hear the applause and you are all making a terrible mistake. You are all out of touch with the world.” He defended Israeli’s position as a nation-state and said that Palestinian nationalism is a modern phenomenon. To further incite a strong, heated response from AbuKhalil, Tor pointed out that he never looked at him and said “I wish you would humanize me in some way, maybe by looking at me.” Looking straight ahead toward the crowded audience, AbuKhalil responded, “I will treat you like you treated Palestinians in Gaza.”
Several members of the audience walked up to the microphone to question Tor on his presentation and responses to AbuKhalil. Freshman Gus Shamieh asked him, “How can you justify the most recent attacks on Gaza when Israeli soldiers are saying they feel like they have committed war crimes?” Tor said, “Hamas was armed. Israel has the right to defend itself.” From the boisterous responses and applause from the audience, it became clear that they too felt that a resolution was not close at hand.