Viewpoints » Contributors

‘Dialogue’ stands in way of justice in Palestine

Like civil rights and anti-apartheid activists before them, Palestine’s advocates must choose action over so-called moderation.

At one point in history, there was debate over the morality of slavery. At another, it was considered legitimate to discuss whether or not apartheid was an acceptable institution. And not long ago, segregation in the United States was considered reasonable. In each of these situations, there were those who peddled themselves as voices of reason in a tense discourse, who saw legitimacy in “both sides,” and who were thoughtful enough to take the middle ground. Stephen Lurie, who in his latest Viewpoints contribution (“A More Just Dialogue”) calls on pro-Palestine activists to dialogue with their pro-Israel counterparts, represents a historical archetype that stands in the way of any movement for justice.

In response to a statement condemning Israel’s recent assault on Gaza written by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and endorsed by other RSOs and SJP chapters across the city, Lurie presents what is supposed to be the enlightened and responsible position of promoting dialogue between two squabbling foes. Lurie brands SJP’s activity as a “counterproductive” radicalization of the greater Palestine-Israel issue, and urges the group to converse and sympathize with those who condone Israel’s discriminatory policies toward Palestinians. But this dialogue—this moderation and compromise, this conversation over coffee—actually inhibits the advancement of justice. Conversation with those who cannot see the occupation as an oppressive system inevitably occurs under their terms. Meaningful changes in history have only ever come from the voices of the discursive edge, while ‘dialogue’ only succeeds in restraining legitimate critique of oppressive structures like the Israeli occupation.

Lurie’s idea of “justice in dialogue” asks us to pretend that we are operating on a level playing field with equal blame to share. But we are not dealing with a two-sided war, a cultural clash, or a religious conflict. We are dealing exclusively with an oppressor—the occupier—and the oppressed—the occupied. Palestinians are routinely physically and sexually harassed at Israeli military checkpoints, activists and children are frequently imprisoned without trial or charge (nearly half of the male population of Palestine has been imprisoned), and Israel continues to displace Palestinian families to make room for settlements in the West Bank. Though both sides undoubtedly suffer from Israel’s decades-old occupation, Palestinians endure an exponentially greater loss of life, limb, infrastructure, and mental stability. There are no “two sides.”

Dialogue would only serve to sanitize the oppressive nature of the occupation. Instead, we seek to build the growing movement of people that will bring an end to the occupation, that will help restore human and civil rights to the Palestinian people, and that will make sure we are never left wondering how we allowed such a violation of human dignity and autonomy to continue under our noses. Any other strategy will dilute the action needed to see real peace and justice.

Furthermore, Lurie’s concern that SJP’s presentation of the conflict is an unfair and skewed “rail” is as problematic as his call for dialogue. One specific issue he cites in the SJP op-ed is the absence of the word ‘Hamas,’ as if Israel’s human rights abuses and international law violations are dictated by Hamas. Although Lurie stresses the importance of context, he fails to contextualize the most recent war on Gaza within the wider history of the occupation.

Lurie also criticizes SJP for not recognizing the alleged existential threat posed to Israelis. By this, we assume he is referring to the demographic threat posed by the existence of free Palestinians. But the reality is that Israel has the arms to threaten Palestinian life en masse—it does so regularly—and the military capacity for mass murder, as it has shown most recently in the last two invasions of Gaza.

On the other hand, indigenous Palestinians do not have an army or any advanced weaponry, and the rockets that Lurie implicitly alludes to pose a mere fraction of the risk posed by Israel’s almost nightly air raids over Gaza. So it is not that SJP refuses to recognize Israeli concerns; it is that, all things considered, Israeli occupation and apartheid pose an existential threat to Palestinians. And the more unaware our community and student body is of this very real development, the greater this existential threat becomes.

In shedding light on the power dynamics that fuel a globally condemned occupation and in demanding a restoration of Palestinian human rights, SJP does not radicalize the discourse. ‘Dialoguing,’ conceding Palestinian rights, and normalizing oppression does.

Segregation did not end because of dialogue. Apartheid did not end because of criticism that was gentle on the consciences of those who benefited from it. Words were not used to make the supporters of these systems feel comfortable with the status quo. Words were used to shame them, and to provoke the action that was needed to break down oppressive structures. This remains our greatest tactic.

Samee Sulaiman is a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies and Sami Kishawi is a fourth-year in the College. Both are members of Students for Justice in Palestine.

  • Me

    To confirm, did you just actually claim that Stephen Lurie is akin to an individual calling for discourse between opposing arguments on slavery? And are you actually comparing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to slavery?

    • Rkbm

      To confirm – They are, in fact, only making the obvious comparisons of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to slavery – the existence if an oppressor/oppressed dynamic, and the misguided attempts to take a “moral high ground” by advocating for dialogue, which in both cases would be based on the false notion that this conflict is about two sides on an even playing field who just need to talk it out.

      They aren’t at all comparing the degree of injustice inflicted on slaves to the Palestinians, nor equating Stephen Lurie to a “moderate” on slavery.

    • Really?

      It is always interesting to see people ignore the entire content and context of an article just to latch on to one word – in this case, ‘slavery’ – and draw attention to some weird idea that doesn’t exist in the article. This has nothing to do with slavery. As numerous others have pointed out it is simply just one of the many examples of injustice that plague our history. In that same vein, by supporting Israel’s occupation, we are plaguing humanity even more.

      Now for the sake of UChicago discourse, why not actually focus on the ~content~ of the article and use that to move forward.

  • VB

    To “me”:
    you do know you can just reread the article and confirm your suspicions, right?

  • Anon

    I think slavery was mentioned only once, not at all to draw a comparison to it but to show that at one point there was debate over its morality. You should probably try harder to avoid taking things so obviously out of context, and you should also try harder to actually focus on the point of the article which has nothing to do with slavery (seeing that it wasn’t brought up again beyond the example of immorality that it was used in).

  • Sharon L.

    Let us remember that in history, there was one group of people who refused to have a debate over the morality of slavery. There was no question in their eyes that their position was morally right. There was never a moment when they thought that “dialoging” was the answer. They chose action over moderation. Those people were the slave-owners of the South, who chose to rebel and create their own Confederacy in order to defend an institution that they felt was unarguably correct.
    I am not comparing you to the Confederates, as clearly you do not condone violence. But let us remember that without dialogue, BOTH sides merely become calcified in their own black-and-white worldviews.


      I see your point, but you seem to be forgetting the flip side: abolitionists. They, like the staunchest Confederates, would not take dialogue seriously as they were also positive they were in the right. Certainly, when you ignore dialogue you take a serious risk. It may turn out terribly wrong, but it may also lead to an expedited move towards justice.

      • Arafat

        Slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962, but it is still widely practiced there behind closed doors. Slavery is still legal in a handful of Muslim nations like Mauritania, Niger to name two.

        Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, enslaved many and raped many of his women slaves starting a legacy that is still openly accepted in Islam.

        • U

          The Prophet Muhammed advocated for better treatment of women, and Islam as a religion is focused on the notion of justice. The Prophet himself freed /many/ slaves, so I am unsure where you’re getting this un-information about his misdeeds. Please take the time to understand the religion you’re talking about, before posting ignorant and hurtful things on the Internet.

          I’d also like to add that religion in the political scheme often becomes muddled, and it is unwise to assume that all actions done by a country claiming to rule by scripture are truly condoned by that scripture.

  • A

    He quite succesfully is. Don’t be too apalled now.

  • pro-dialogue

    Dialogue is what helped defeat slavery, apartheid, and segregation. Oppressors cannot handle the truth. The only way to triumph in the absence of dialogue is coercion. This article is rubbish

  • Fatima R

    No: we aren’t dealing with a “two-sided war, a cultural clash, or a religious conflict.” We are dealing with 22 Arab nation, with 800 times the land and 50 times the people, vs Israel, a tiny nation the size of New Jersey. Israel is surrounded by neighbors that are committed to her destruction. Thats the REAL power dynamic we are dealing with that the authors neglect.

    • KO

      Do these 22 arab nations and all their swaths of fruitful, fertile land and droves of people continually displace Israelis, or corral them into an open air prison which they are not allowed to venture more than 6km from by sea, which is continually monitored (and occasionally attacked) by airborne drones, or place degrading checkpoints throughout Israeli’s very own property? There is a far realer and much more lethal (as shown by the statistics) power dynamic in play than the board-game-esque one that you describe.

      • Ck

        Those Arab countries already displaced all their Jewish residents. There are almost no Jews left in Arab countries and Israelis (and often Jews) are not even allowed into those countries.

  • Adal A

    Great article. Now I want to hear more on the movement you propose, its strategy and specific tactics. What kind of action are we talking about taking here?