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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Pro-Palestinian UChicago Professors Discuss Gaza Crisis in Divinity Students Association Panel

University of Chicago professors offer perspectives on non-violent resistance, Israeli settlements in Gaza, the University’s collaboration with Israel, and the one-state solution.
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Stuti Shelat
The “Critical Perspectives on the Crisis in Gaza” panelists.

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of violence.

In a panel titled “Critical Perspectives on the Crisis in Gaza,” four UChicago professors discussed the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict in a panel hosted by the Divinity Students Association (DSA) on October 19.

The panel opened with an invocation of the University’s commitment to the principle of free expression, along with a stated goal of working to “recognize the humanity that unites us.”

Professor and associate director of the Global Studies department Callie Maidhof began her remarks with the assertion that, “Hamas is a distraction. Or, at least, questions about Hamas are a distraction.”

She then directed attention to “violent” and “callous” Israeli settlers in the West Bank. “But most settlers are not like the ones I just described,” she said. “They’re actually a pretty small minority of settlers in the West Bank…They distract, and more importantly, they make possible the massive colonization of the West Bank. And they do so counterintuitively, not because they steal land, although they do, not because they are killing and displacing Palestinians, although they do, but actually because they provide a foil for other Jewish Israelis so that they can say, ‘Well I’m not a settler because I’m not like them.’”

“Hamas’ attack was horrific, and I think it was a war crime, and I think that questions about Hamas are a distraction,” she added. “So neither attacks by Hamas, nor violent settlers, should be overlooked or understated in importance, and comparing them is also not helpful. But what they both accomplish politically is they distract from the same thing, which is a massive settler colonial project which at the present has turned to genocide.”

Maidhof concluded by noting that “Israel is at war with Palestine, with Palestinian people…with Palestinian children.”

Alireza Doostdar, associate professor of Islamic Studies and the Anthropology of Religion at the Divinity School, emphasized what he saw as a disparity in the framing of armed actions by Israelis and Palestinians. “In the Palestinian case, the standard Western stance is to condemn every act of violent resistance a priori as terrorism, so that there’s little or no space for distinguishing action against legitimate targets from atrocities against civilians.”

He continued, “With Israel, it’s quite the reverse, such that if you listen to mainstream networks and certainly, the words of the Israeli regime’s American benefactors, we barely ever hear any mention of war crimes or atrocities, as though any kind of Israeli military assault is legitimate by default.”

Doostdar ended with an example “right in our backyard,” citing a collaborative project launched in 2013 between the University of Chicago and Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, aimed at funding research that applies advancements in nano-technology to improving the affordability and accessibility of fresh drinking water.

“Just as UChicago assists the Israelis in developing better technologies for accessing clean water, Israel weaponizes water access against the Palestinian people,” he said. “So with something as simple as collaboration in water research, the University of Chicago is itself both complicit with Israeli crimes and has the power to exert non-violent pressure on the Israeli state to stop its crimes,” he concluded.

W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History, described himself as a “witness-participant” in the unfolding situation, but not a “scholar.”

Mitchell recounted a 1987 visit to Israel for a conference at a “right-wing” university. A paper he submitted to the conference, he said, “threw the apple of discord into the conference,” because he showed “very early photographs of…the emerging settlements, built like fortresses on hilltops, looking down on Palestinian villages.”

He went on to describe “the segregation of the occupied territories into places with good roads for the settlers, bad roads for the Palestinians.”

“Here at the University of Chicago, we talk about the ‘Life of the Mind,’” he said. “I always feel like I’m of two minds and two souls. I want to respect the historic tragedy of the Jewish people and their claim for a homeland, but I cannot accept the idea that the dispossession of another people is an inevitable consequence of that. And I know so many Israelis who feel exactly the same way.”

The final speaker on the panel, Eman Abdelhadi, assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development, began her remarks by shifting the focus to a “long-term solution to this conflict.” She described herself as both “a scholar” and “a Palestinian…someone who has long participated in the Palestine liberation struggle.”

She began, “I want to answer for folks in the room, what does it mean when you hear people say, ‘Free Palestine?’”

“For a long time, the international community was attached to the idea of a two-state solution, and certain segments of Palestinian society were also attached to that idea, even though it would have given 78 percent of historic Palestine to the Israeli state, and only 22 percent to Palestinians,” Abdelhadi said.

“The two-state solution is no longer viable,” Abdelhadi argued. “Israel does have the capacity to close off water and electricity and fuel to the West Bank, and that should tell you something…You actually only have one viable state right now in historic Palestine, and that state is Israel,” she contended.

She characterized the relationship between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people as “one of apartheid,” citing Israel’s control over Palestinians’ lives, despite the fact that they lack citizenship in the country.

“Israel also treats its own Palestinian citizens, which are about 20 percent of the population, as second-class citizens,” Abdelhadi said. “They carry different-colored ID cards. They have different rights.”

She then described what her “one-state solution” would look like. “What we mean is a democratic nation in historic Palestine that gives equal rights to all of the residents of the land and allows for the right of Palestinian refugees to return,” Abdelhadi said. “The one-state solution does not entail the removal of Jewish Israelis from the land.”

To Abdelhadi, the one-state solution would mean that Jews abroad would not have an automatic right to settle in Palestine.

“Right now, even though my grandparents were born in Palestine, even though my grandmother died with the key to her house in Palestine, I have no right to return. However, someone born in Poland who is Jewish, whose grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, great-great-great-great-grandparents, have never set foot on that land, has a right, under Israeli law, to move to Palestine and receive all the rights of citizenship. That would not work under a one-state solution.”

Abdelhadi sees challenges to a one-state solution, including the belief that Israel has a right to exist as an ethno-national, religious state.

“No country in the world has the right to exist as such. And no country in the world has ever successfully lived as such…So the institutions of Zionism would have to be dismantled in order to build a free and equal society in historical Palestine.”

Another obstacle, according to Abdelhadi, is the belief that Arabs and Jews cannot live peacefully together under a one-state solution, an idea that she discredits as racist and reminiscent of white supremacist ideas about people of color.

She concluded by asking the audience to “imagine the possibility of a free Palestine.” “You should be able to drive from Jerusalem to Gaza, and have a picnic, in like, an hour and a half. Right now, that’s almost impossible…I want you to imagine that piece of land without a border wall, without checkpoints, without an Iron Dome defense system, without heavily armed settlers, and without militant Palestinian resistance, because there would be no need,” she said.

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  • R

    RBS / Dec 21, 2023 at 6:01 pm

    The speakers reference to “Historic Palestine” – whatever that means – doesn’t appear to include Jordan. Jordan was part of the British Mandate until they lopped off the Eastern 80% to give to their buddies the Hashemites (along with Iraq) who were tossed out of Hejaz by the Sauds. So the 78% percent referenced by these “scholars” refers to the 20% of the Mandate that was left after the Hashemites were given the Eastern Mandate.

    Reply
  • S

    stating the obvious / Nov 30, 2023 at 9:10 am

    It’s simple. They just hate Jews.

    Reply
    • S

      S. Reyes / Dec 1, 2023 at 3:44 pm

      Yes, and especially those who occupy Palestinian lands. As Norman Gary Finkelstein tells Piers Morgan: “[The]people of Gaza have the right to hate Israel.”

      Reply
  • T

    Tom / Nov 29, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Why would you have a panel discussion with four panelists all representing one side of the topic? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the panel include some representation from the pro Israeli side of the topic?

    Reply