Author and Palestinian rights activist Ali Abunimah discussed potential solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict yesterday at the MultiCultural Center.
Hosted by UCSB’s Students for Justice in Palestine, the lecture featured Abunimah’s perspective on violence and oppression in Israel and Palestine. Abunimah founded Electronic Intifada, a website that publishes commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective.
According to Abunimah, current peace discussions between the two countries won’t provide a suitable outcome for citizens of the region.
“We’re entering the beginning of an end game in the sense that the peace process — the so-called negotiations — cannot lead out of the impasse,” Abunimah said. “They do not offer a path to the two states living side by side in peace.”
Abunimah said the roughly 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel are controlled by a “three-tiered system of apartheid” similar to that in place in South Africa until the 1990s. By forcing Palestinians out of Israel, Abunimah said Israeli forces are destroying the possibility of implementing a successful two-state solution.
However, president of American Students for Israel Abraham Gean, a fourth-year business economics major, said Abunimah ignored historical evidence of the Jewish people’s claim to Israel.
“There is archaeology that shows that Jews were there thousands of years ago, and he just called it folklore, basically calling it a lie,” Gean said.
Abunimah, on the other hand, said Palestinians are the true victims. He said one of the most pressing issues in the region today is a series of preventative laws enforced by Israeli authorities on Palestinians native to Israel.
“What you have is a set of what I can only describe as racist laws that restrict the movements of Palestinians in a number of ways,” Abunimah said. “My own mother, for example, was born in Jerusalem. She now lives in Jordan, and she’s not allowed to go back.”
Students for Justice in Palestine facilitator Noor Aljawad, a second-year Middle Eastern studies and sociology major, said it is important for the campus to hear a Palestinian perspective on the conflict given America’s openly pro-Israel ties.
“I feel that we often hear the mainstream line about the conflict and it’s very biased,” Aljawad said. “Corporate media has a very pro-Israel bias, so to have [Abunimah] come speak and deflect their propaganda was really cool to hear because it’s hard to find a pro-Palestinian perspective on campus or anywhere else, especially in the media.”
In addition to advocating a system of boycott, divestment and sanctions of the West Bank region, Abunimah said Hamas should be recognized as a legitimate political power forced to resort to violence as a result of dire circumstances.
“Hamas is as pragmatic as any other political movement,” Abunimah said. “Their positions have moved and Israel — despite their claims that it doesn’t negotiate with them — has done so repeatedly. Hamas is ideologically flexible enough to negotiate.”
However, not all audience members shared Abunimah’s support for Hamas.
According to Gean, Hamas has used airstrikes to blatantly target Israeli civilians.
“They don’t attack military bases; they attack coffee shops, they attack dance clubs, they attack schools — their rockets hit everywhere,” Gean said. “They kill innocent civilians. Unfortunately, Palestinians have been killed, but it’s only in an attempt to destabilize the internationally recognized terrorist organization [Hamas].”
Despite hostilities between both sides, Abunimah said he hopes to see an environment in which both Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully coexist.
“I’m advocating the destruction of a racist system and its replacement with a democratic system,” Abunimah said. “I believe the Israeli Jews and Palestinians have a right to live in equality and tranquility. That’s what my goal is; that’s what I’m working for.”