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Palestinian postdoctoral fellow speaks on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Albert Reiss

Section: News

March 27, 2015

This Tuesday night, March 24 in the Lown Auditorium, the Brandeis community heard from Dr. Sa’ed Adel Atshan, a Palestinian postdoctoral fellow from the Watson Institute at Brown University. The talk was titled “Heroes and Hope: Nonviolence and Resilience in Israel/Palestine.” Atshan spoke about the forms of peaceful protest that Palestinians have used to condemn “Israeli occupation” as well as the hardships that Palestinians face because of the ongoing conflict. A large portion of the lecture was Atshan profiling both Israelis and Palestinians alike who have been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause through nonviolence. Following the lecture, Atshan led a Q&A session. Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored the talk.

Atshan is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University. In addition to his academic responsibilities, Atshan has worked for the U.N. and the government of Dubai as well as Al-Qaws, an organization promoting gay rights in the Palestinian Authority and other Arab states. He grew up in Ramallah, a historically Christian Palestinian town, and attended a Quaker school in Palestine.

To start off the lecture, Atshan pointed to the “settlement policies” of Israel that he takes issue with. He points out that hundreds of Palestinian villages, through these policies, “have been depopulated.”

This occupation issue is not only partisan to the Palestinian side. Atshan talked about the story of Yonatan Shapira, a former pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Shapira was a well-regarded pilot in the Air Force until he felt that he could no longer be “a part of the occupying forces.” Thus, Shapira left the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and co-founded Combatants for Peace. Combatants for Peace brings Palestinian and Israeli soldiers together in solidarity for a peaceful solution to their respective nations’ problems.

Atshan also mentioned Bruno Hussar, founder of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam. This organization helps bring attention to what Atshan characterized as a “segregation between the [Israeli and Palestinian] communities.” Atshan pointed out the fact that Palestinians and Israelis have separate housing and separate schools. According to him, the Palestinian schools tend to be “much underfunded” as compared to their Israeli counterparts.

One of the supporters of the Palestinian cause mentioned was Sahar Vardi. Vardi is the daughter of the former deputy chief of Mossad, an Israeli intelligence agency. Before she was supposed to go into the army, Sahar saw what she perceived to be injustices done to the Palestinians by the Israelis. After this, she subsequently became a conscientious objector to military conscription and decided not to enlist. Currently, she works with young Jewish Israelis to be conscientious objectors.

Atshan went on to mention the difficulties of daily Palestinian life imposed by the “occupation” by the Israelis. He pointed out that “according to the U.N., [there are] over 500 impediments to movement.” Many of these impediments are based on Israeli checkpoints which are found throughout the Palestinian Authority. According to Atshan, “Palestinian women have died giving birth at checkpoints … and some checkpoints are like a cage.” In addition, “Israeli and Palestinian people have different roads to live on.” Atshan mentioned how in the Palestinian Authority, there are separate lanes for Israeli and Palestinian drivers.

Another point that came up was the fact that Israel has constructed a wall in the “occupied West Bank” which is “illegal under international law.” Atshan said that Israelis use that wall for preventing suicide bombers from crossing the border. However, he pointed out that this argument does not hold up because the wall goes through the neighborhood. These walls create huge logistical problems for people who need to go to work.

Atshan characterizes Palestinians as the “indigenous people” of the land. However he said “they cannot travel freely or marry freely.” Because of what Atshan describes as “two populations governed by two different laws,” he sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being similar to the apartheid policies from South Africa. Atshan also mentioned how Israel is the “only country in the world to try children before a military court” with a “99-percent conviction rate.”

Following this lecture, Atshan fielded questions from the audience. When asked about whether Hamas would be eradicated in the future, Atshan began to talk about the organization’s beginnings. He compared the U.S.’s funding of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan to the IDF security services helping to start Hamas. Atshan described that some Palestinians “support the armed resistance” and may feel “that the secular PLO has failed.” However, Atshan does not support Hamas and talked about how Hamas has disregarded international law and targeted civilians. He sees a “future for Hamas to moderate” and for its “popularity to diminish.” Atshan cited a U.N. study that said that by 2020, “the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable” as an example of what is “causing people to radicalize and join Hamas.”

When asked about the national solution he supports, Atshan talked about a “binational state” solution. He talked about how he would prefer a Jewish homeland to a Jewish state. He talked about how “Zionism is colonialism” and how the Israelis have left Palestinians “crumbs” of land. Specifically, Atshan advocates for a “binational secular democratic state with no institutionalized privileges.”

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