Johns Hopkins Newsletter
Panelists condemn Israeli occupation
By MARINA KOESTLER
Susan Muaddi Darraj, a freelance writer from the Baltimore area, and Joshua Ruebner, a founder of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, spoke Friday evening as part of a panel discussion on the escalating violence in the Middle East. The event, entitled “Israel and Palestine: What the HELL is going on?” was sponsored by the JHU Muslim Association, MESA, Amnesty International, and JHU4Peace. Both speakers were opposed to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, checkpoints set up by Israel to monitor Palestinians and the absence of an international protection or peacekeeping force in the conflicted region.
Darraj, a Palestinian Christian, said that the conflict “is really not about religion at all,” she said. Instead, it is about morality: “The only people who can stop this war are people of conscience with a common set of values.”
An example of these people of conscience is the over 400 Israeli reservists who refuse to fight beyond the borders of 1967 Israel.
“This is a very brave stance and one that should be commended,” said Darraj.
The only way to resolve the conflict, Darraj believes, is through “the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state…It is absolutely a necessity.” She acknowledged, “Arafat has been corrupt in his dealings,” but also expressed her belief that the Palestinian people could successfully run their own state.
Israel received Darraj’s censure for its expansion of settlement in occupied territories, as well as for “its destruction of olive tree groves, the livelihood of many Palestinian families and demolition of Israeli homes.”
In response to the argument that Palestinians, when given a state, would continue to act aggressively toward Israel, Darraj said, “Most Palestinians, from my experience, contrary to the rhetoric, do not want to drive Israel into the sea..I think that Palestinians understand the long history of persecution of the Jewish people.”
Israel needs to accept, Darraj said, its “inevitable future neighbor, the Palestinian state.” She said people should recognize that there is a “35-year-old ceiling that has been placed on their aspirations,” a reference to the military occupation by Israeli that is in her view responsible for the hardships of the Palestinian youth.
Ruebner, an American-born Jew with Israeli citizenship, spoke in agreement with much of what Darraj had said. “Enough of this senseless, senseless killing! No more!” he said.
Ruebner was particularly against the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, expressing his horror at President Bush’s assertion that Sharon was “a man of peace.”
Ruebner said that when he heard that, “I thought it was like Groundhog Day or something. I said, ‘did Sharon just end the occupation overnight?’ Calling Sharon a man of peace is like calling Bush a man of intellect.”
As for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the region to negotiate a cease-fire, Ruebner’s opinion was, “He’s going to fail.” He believed that Palestinians would be reluctant to make a deal where they would need to give up their resistance “in exchange for nothing.”
Ruebner described the Israeli army as “out of control” and “running amuck.” The military’s occupation of Palestine should be ended, in his view. “Any time you have a military occupation, you’re going to have military resistance to that occupation,” he said. While Israel tries to portray its occupation as “benevolent or benign,” said Ruebner, “there’s no such thing as a benign occupation : Occupation is brutal.”
Ruebner cited the “humiliating conditions” that Palestinians are enduring. This is the “longest ongoing military occupation is modern history [...] yet all we talk about is the cycle of violence, without contextualizing.”
Ruebner discussed the Geneva Conference’s guidelines, which cite that under temporary occupation the occupier cannot acquire territory by force. “Because they’ve been persecuted,” he said of Israelis, “they should know exactly what it feels like, and they should not do it to other people.”
While he acknowledged that his criticism of Israel was harsh, Ruebner reassured that he was capable of speaking out against Palestinian actions as well. Having sustained an injury during a suicide attack in Jerusalem in 1996, Ruebner was vehement in his words against this form of retaliation. “Disgusting,” was his word for it. “No more innocent people killed on either side. Period.”
The United States is decidedly pro-Israel, Ruebner said, and “if you’re going to pick sides, come out and admit it and excuse yourself from trying to mediate this conflict in an impartial way…If you’re arming one side, you’re on their side.”
Ruebner suggested compromise. “What’s good for the Israeli people is also good for the Palestinian people,” Ruebner declared. This, he said, was freedom, peace, and dignity.