Current and former UT faculty members discussed the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and their role as academics at a roundtable conversation Thursday. Some UT students said the discussion normalized the occupation of Palestine.
The UT Center for Middle Eastern Studies hosted the roundtable to discuss the conflict as tensions increase. As of Sept. 25, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave Israel one year to withdraw from occupied territory or Israel will face revocation of its recognition as a state.
Jeremi Suri, a public affairs, history and Middle Eastern Studies professor, said some Jewish people he spoke with had a narrow approach to the issue, which he believes is a big part of the problem, and emphasized the importance of understanding opposing views.
"We cannot take a fair position if we do not acknowledge the complex interplay of history," Suri said. "It's a more profound way of getting at injustices, getting people to see the human beings behind the arguments."
Members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee said the roundtable spread misinformation by upholding the narrative of oppression against Palestinians.
"We understand 'peace talks' as a tactic used by supporters of Israel ... denying Palestinians agency over their narrative and oppression," the committee said in a statement. "It is why progressive organizations rightfully characterize these types of events as an attempt to normalize the occupation of Palestine."
Israel has occupied and restricted Gaza and the West Bank for over 50 years, blocking Palestinians' movement and access to goods and using violence against protesters. Both groups view the land as theirs and have been fighting for decades over how it is controlled.
Arabic associate professor Mohammad Mohammad, who teaches a course involving Palestinian history, said talking about the conflict is difficult while trying to acknowledge that both sides believe they are fighting for their own land.
"As far as I know, the class is classified as one of the most difficult to teach, precisely because of the two narratives," Mohammad said. "The Palestinian narrative is rarely heard, and that's what's difficult about this class."
Esther Raizen, a Hebrew associate professor who has taught joint classes with Mohammad, said a dual-narrative approach can be beneficial to people's overall understanding of the topic.
"Our philosophy as a department has been the recognition that we have to teach through dialogue," Raizen said.
The committee said the roundtable provided an inadequate representation of the occupation Palestinians face.
"Since the catastrophe of 1948, Palestinians have been living under the harsh blockade and surveillance of the Israelis yet the speakers live in the illusion that there's a possibility for a 'new era' of 'peaceful' relations between the occupier and the occupied," the committee said.