Dr. Jonathan Adelman is a supposedly highly respected member of his field. I attended his lecture titled “Israel/Palestine: Myths and Realities” on Oct. 15th and expected to come to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the pro-Israel perspective. His account of the history of the conflict was entirely devoid of factual information. In fact, his entire speech lasted 20 minutes at best.
The first myth that Adelman hoped to dispel is that “Israel is a racist society.” He argues that many different ethnic groups of Jews comprise Israeli society. I do agree with Adelman that Israel is not a racist society. I have never heard any rational person describe the whole of Israel as such. However, many make the case that the current Israeli government enacts and enforces racist policies. Destroying homes, businesses and infrastructure, denying medical aid and food, and building a wall around an entire population based upon the fact that they belong to a certain community is racist.
The second myth that Adelman tries to dismiss is that “Israel is a colonialist state.” He rejects this myth based upon his definition of colonialism as the act of one state deploying settlers and military to another land to exploit natural resources and build empire through systematic oppression of a people. He argues that Israel’s occupation results solely from its necessity to protect itself and provides no benefits, economic or otherwise, to Israel. Webster’s defines colonialism as “the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other peoples or territories.” I see nothing in this definition that does not directly apply to Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank of Gaza. Even if we grant that some exploitative function must take place by the colonizing power, Israel still falls into this category.
After the Occupation of 1967, Israel took control of both the West Bank and the Gaza aquifers. It effectively ended all land ownership rights to the aquifers and delegated all authority over water distribution to the Civil Authority, which is run by the military. Palestinians had to obtain permits to drill in aquifers, which the Civil Authority made very difficult to obtain and could revoke at any time. Then Israel drilled deeper wells, causing many Palestinian-owned wells to dry. Israel had positioned its occupation so as to exploit the water resources under territories that belonged to Palestinians before June 6, 1967. Today the per capita water consumption of Palestinians is one-tenth that of Israelis.
The third myth that Adelman presents is that Israel denies Palestinians national self-determination. He then briefly cites without factual justification four instances in which the Palestinians have rejected generous offers of statehood from Israel. This discussion does not allow enough space to respond to all four instances, so I will limit myself to the most recent one with which Adelman dealt in-depth. Adelman asserts that Yasser Arafat rejected a generous offer from Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and subsequently broke off all negotiations. The reality behind this generous proposal is that the Palestinian state would still be divided into two partitions with no territorial contiguity, that Palestinians would have no control over their borders, limited control over their aquifers and a continued military presence in large parts of the West Bank. The Israeli Defense Forces would reserve the right to deploy at any time into the Palestinian state and Israel would maintain fortified settlements and Jewish-only roads deep within Palestine. The plan included no discussion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, which is one of the Palestinians’ greatest concerns. Adelman further indicated that had Arafat accepted this offer, the Palestinians would have supported him. But Arafat could never approach his people with a plan that did not deal with the right of return or give them legitimate sovereignty.
I definitely do not believe that Israel is entirely to blame for the conflict and its recent escalation. However, I must reject Adelman’s claim that the Palestinians are solely responsible for their continually worsening standard of living because they adhere to a “cult of death.” This accusation comes dangerously close to racist terminology. By Adelman’s own definition, “racism is discrimination … against a certain group solely based upon imagined characteristics that separate them from all else.” To assert that Palestinians adhere to a “cult of death” is to ascribe an imagined characteristic to an entire population as justification for the current occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Tom Simson is a senior global studies major.