“PSM! KKK!” Pro-Israel protesters chant behind the barricades while Hasidic Jews, the Neturei Karta, answer them with, “We are against the state of Israel because we are Jews.” Lee Kaplan from FrontPage Magazine dyes his hair black, wears a fake beard and changes his name in order to appear Arab and get the “inside scoop” on the Palestine Solidarity Movement. Kaplan points at the Neturei Karta and tells them they are going to hell. A Jewish man carrying an adorable little girl walks between the two shouting lines seemingly unfazed. PSM conference attendees look on as sporty Duke students make their way to the gym and the tennis courts. Welcome to the circus!
Oddly enough, I think the spectacle that PSM created on our campus was exactly what we needed to push ourselves out of our trademark Duke apathy. Tables on the Bryan Center walkway just don’t cut it. Articles sent out to e-mail lists often go unread. And don’t even get me started on the impact of columns in The Chronicle! For one weekend, discussions about terrorism and human rights replaced gripes about how busy we are or how wasted we were last night. Our infamous bubble thinned just enough for us to catch a glimpse of the outside world, and this alone demonstrates the value of the PSM conference.
In their condemnation of PSM, these pro-Israel protesters put their own absurdity on display. Although everyone in PSM acknowledges the tragedy of suicide bombings and my friends in PSM mourn Israeli civilian deaths, many Israel supporters refuse to admit that the Israel Defense Forces target the Palestinian civilian population. Your average PSM conference attendee knows exactly how many Israeli civilians have died, how many Israeli children have been killed on their way to school and is fully aware of the terror this strikes in the hearts and minds of Israelis.
In contrast, Pro-Israeli protesters I spoke with claimed that few Palestinian civilians die and when they do, this is not the fault of Israel because the intention is never to target civilians. These naïve Israeli supporters then become the trapeze artists of our circus, jumping from swing to swing as they carefully avoid human rights groups and international law as well as their own appeals to the sanctity of innocent life. “Just let us live!” and “Stop killing babies!” sounds ridiculous when it comes from people who refuse to acknowledge that both sides target civilians. Most disgustingly, Israel targets civilians with support from our government and major corporations like Caterpillar.
Admittedly, believing peace is possible in Israel and Palestine takes an extraordinary stretch of our imaginations. Organizers of the PSM conference dare to believe in an alternate reality in which Israelis and Palestinians respect, even love each other. The PSM conference was not a “terror conference” but a playground for ideas and the future we could build together. Although many in PSM now believe in one democratic state, the most liberal and imaginative supporters of the Israeli government are unable to conceive of peaceful coexistence. Former Israeli politician Avram Burg spoke at the Freeman Center last Friday and offered the following falafel solution: there are three falafel balls—the greater land of Israel, a Jewish majority, and democracy—but there is only room in the pita for two of these falafel balls. Painfully, he said he would give up the greater land of Israel to keep the other two.
Those at the PSM conference have the guts to acknowledge the full horror of this conflict, the elbow grease to commit themselves to finding solutions and the eyes to see a future of peace. At best, those who support the Israeli government are naïve when it comes to Israel’s terror and uninformed about the suffering of Palestinians. At worst, as in the case of Daniel Pipes, they see nothing wrong with the wholesale slaughter of Palestinian civilians.
One point we all agree on is the gravity of the situation in Israel and Palestine. The PSM conference last weekend should only be the beginning of our efforts to work toward peace. Otherwise, we just return home after the show.
Bridget Newman is a Trinity senior.
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