— Jewish, Palestinian and American professors debated the issues surrounding the recent invasion of Gaza by Israel at a panel discussion Tuesday evening at the University of Oklahoma.
Norman Stillman, director of the OU Judaic Studies program; Maurice Roumani, visiting professor from Israel and co-director for the Center for Middle East Studies; and Joshua Landis, assistant professor of international and area studies and co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies, were joined by Housam Mohammed, political science professor from the University of Central Oklahoma.
The professors were cordial but also disagreed on many points during the hour and a half panel discussion that was well attended by OU students in Meacham Auditorium in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
Landis, an expert on Syria, was pessimistic that any solution would be found to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
There is no longer any hope for a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, he said. Conflicts will continue to arise because neither side wants to live together.
"That problem is not going to go away," Landis said.
Stillman, who is Jewish, repeatedly disagreed with Landis' conclusion.
"I must say I'm not as pessimistic as you are," he told Landis.
The prospect for peace, perhaps using a two-state solution, is looking up, he said. The change in the U.S. administration could help the region find peace, he said.
The nature of the discussion was controversial, and the subtle tension in the room was evidenced by the loud laughter that erupted whenever one of the panelists said something even remotely funny.
Bekah Stone, president of Sooners for Peace in Palestine, moderated the first part of the discussion by asking basic questions about the recent conflict in Gaza.
Israel launched its offensive Dec. 27, calling it necessary to quell rocket and mortar fire that rained more than 10,000 shells on swaths of southern Israel since 2001, some hitting houses, schools and retirement homes.
The rockets had killed 24 Israelis since 2001 and injured more than 1,000, according to a report by the Associated Press. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the Gaza offensive, including three civilians hit by rocket fire.
The 23-day offensive killed 1,285 Palestinians, nearly 900 of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Human rights groups are seeking to build a case that Israel and Hamas violated the laws of war during the fighting last month in this tiny coastal territory -- a charge both combatants reject, the Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court said the Palestinian Authority had recognized the court's jurisdiction in a move aimed at allowing a war crimes investigation.
The panelists at OU Tuesday were asked whether the force used by Israel was disproportionate.
While Hamas was wrong to fire rockets into Israel, that's nothing compared to Israel's actions, Mohammed said. They have put Palestinians into an "open-air prison" in Gaza and then decimated the people with advanced military technology, he said. They also targeted civilians, he said.
But Roumani disagreed, saying Israel never targeted civilians.
He said Israel has a right to defend itself, and it only did what America would have done if it had been attacked with rockets for eight years. The Colin Powell doctrine says to engage in a military conflict with overwhelming force or none at all, Roumani said, and that's what Israel did.
Then Shayna Daitch, vice president of Hillel, asked questions the audience had submitted.
The first question didn't mince words. It asked if the Israeli treatment of Palestine was anything different from the Holocaust or apartheid in South Africa.
"Not every case of people getting killed is genocide," said Stillman, who took issue with the inflammatory language of the question. People have to understand that the conflict in the Middle East is unique to the Middle East, he said.
Mohammed said Israel definitely violated human rights in its violence against Gaza and in its continued blockade of goods into Gaza. But he also said Hamas' actions of randomly shooting rockets into Israel were unpardonable.
"We should be not selective in our humanity," Mohammed said. "Killing is killing."
Julianna Parker 366-3541 firstname.lastname@example.org