From February 1-7, the McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights staged Gaza Remembrance Week to mark the one-year anniversary of the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Earlier in January, SPHR organized a “Public Commemoration of the Gaza Massacre” in downtown Montreal. And the ever-controversial Israeli Apartheid Week is just around the corner. However, rather than empower McGill students to effect change in a troubled region of the globe, these events serve to stifle dialogue and promote a simple analysis of a nuanced conflict.
To understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no easy task. The conflict encompasses thousands of years of history and the dreams of millions. Journeying through the turbulent past of the Holy Land, one sees the clash of religious aspirations, political ideologies, and competing desires for a national homeland. In the last century, the region has seen large-scale warfare, massive migration, constantly shifting borders, and a rapidly changing political climate. Such a complex and inconstant situation obviously does not lend itself to easy, convenient analysis.
SPHR, through its displays and speakers, attempts to boil down the entire conflict to the simplest possible point. SPHR’s display in the Redpath Library highlights the findings of the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the UN to ascertain responsibility for human rights abuses during Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip. The Goldstone Report, faulted by many for an anti-Israel bias, accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes; Judge Goldstone himself was displeased when the UN Human Rights Committee took only Israel to task for its role in the conflict. SPHR’s display quotes selectively from the Goldstone Report, failing to acknowledge any of its findings against Hamas. It uses the Report as a starting point from which to demonize Israel and undermine its legitimacy as a state.
No intellectually honest person would dispute that thousands of innocent civilians have perished in Gaza, or that Gaza’s population continues to suffer. The essential question that the speakers and displays organized by SPHR fail to ask is, “Why?” Why might Israel have chosen to attack Gaza? Could Hamas bear some responsibility? One is not encouraged to place the Gaza tragedy in a wider historical and political context, but rather to blame Israel – the easy target – and move on. SPHR frequently uses this strategy – the most recent example being a motion that will be presented tomorrow at SSMU’s Winter General Assembly entitled “The Defence of Human Rights, Social Justice and Environmental Protection,” which isolates Israel as a violator of human rights deserving of our condemnation. SPHR misappropriates the cause of human rights in order to further its political agenda. These tactics represent a serious affront to the critical thinking abilities of McGill students. When all the answers are cut and dried, when everyone is divided neatly into “pro” this or “anti” that, where is there place for dialogue on campus? How can those who are emotionally invested in this conflict, or at least concerned as global citizens, move forward towards a more positive solution?
My endeavour here is not to defend one side or the other. I’m simply saying that SPHR’s methodology of tackling big problems with snappy slogans and narrow positions is not healthy. By no means should you, a globally conscious university student, ignore the plight of those in Gaza. Its residents have suffered terribly. But before you arrive at any conclusions as to who is to blame, and what is to be done, do your homework. Purporting to be an expert on Middle East politics because you know one side’s take on one issue is like calling yourself an expert in Shakespearean literature after reading one monologue from Hamlet. It’s intellectually dishonest. Instead, seek out numerous perspectives. Do your research and put issues like this in appropriate context. Help foster a campus atmosphere where dialogue and discussion are the rule, and polarizing polemic the exception.
Adam Winer is a U0 Arts Legacy student.