May 18, 2010

Palestine "catastrophes" spur talk from Khalidi, Mearsheimer

On a day commemorating Palestinians’ 1948 departure from Israel, professors John Mearsheimer and Rashid Khalidi spoke about a recent shift in Americans’ perspective of Palestine at a talk Friday in Kent Hall.

The talk fell on Nakba Day, which memorializes the struggles of the Palestinian people in leaving the territory in 1948, when the U.N. declared the land to be Israel. Nakba means catastrophe in Arabic.

“The Nakba is one of the great crimes of modern history,” said Mearsheimer, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. “But the greatest tragedy is that what happened in the 1940s has not been talked about; Israelis had a deep-seeded interest in hiding the crimes they committed against the Arabs.”

American media in the past has focused solely on Israel’s independence, said Khalidi, an Arab studies professor at Columbia, formerly at the U of C. It has only recently recognized the Palestinians as victims, he said.

“For the past 62 years [America] has only been able to talk of [Nakba] Day in terms of Israel,” Khalidi said, adding that, in the past, “the very word Palestine meant anti-Semitism.”

Khalidi claimed that Americans are beginning to understand and sympathize with the Palestinian viewpoint, citing a series of recent events—the seige of Beirut in 1982, the conflict in Lebanon in 2006, the Gaza conflict from 2008 to 2009—that contributed to the change in American thinking. Media coverage of these events “overwhelmed the idea that is cherished by many Israelis—that Israel is forever the victim,» he said.

Khalidi said the U.S. has a responsibility for ending the violence in the area, but urged Palestinians to take a non-violent course of action. “We are going to have to work to overcome the myths that have been around for decades,” he said.

Mearsheimer ended the panel with a warning to the Palestinian people. “Palestinians must never underestimate the danger of mass expulsion at the hand of the Israelis. That is the cardinal lesson of the Nakba,” he said.