Norton Mezvinsky, president of the International Council for Middle Eastern Studies and professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, spoke to students, faculty, and members of the community on Wednesday night, Nov. 2 at 7p.m. in the McCormick Center, regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the implications of United States involvement.
Mezvinsky began his speech with the Jewish proverb: “Things may get worse before they get better,” which effectively introduced one of the overarching themes for his topic concerning Arab- Israeli conflict. In order to properly follow Mezvinsky’s arguments presented in his speech, viewers required rudimentary knowledge of the ongoing current conflict between the Arab peoples and the Jewish community of the Middle East.
The conflict centers on the political rigidities and tensions between the two groups, originating from the large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Jewish peoples in the Middle East following the Zionist movement established the modern State of Israel in 1948. Zionism refers to the political movement that has supported the independence of the Jewish people in creating a sovereign Jewish national homeland. The territory occupied by the Israelis have increased tensions and hostilities between the rival groups because although the Middle Eastern Jewish people regard the land as historically owned by their ancestors, Palestinian Arabs also claim historic ownership of the property.
The presentation provided the audience with a deeper understanding of the issue from the less followed perspective (by the general American public) of pro-Arab. The United States traditionally supports the Israeli people in its overall policy in the Middle East and has provided foreign aid for the country in the past several decades. Thus, the common perspective of the U.S. primarily backs the Israelis due to the anti-Semitism and suppression the Jews have experienced from Palestinian Arabs.
Mezvinsky provided an alternative view on the conflict that challenged anti-Arab beliefs. He argued that Palestinians suffer repression from the opposing group, making them in many ways “second-class citizens” compared to Israelis. As a result of Zionism legislature influencing law-making, Arab Palestinians are limited economically; 70 percent live below the poverty line due to oppressive measures of the Israeli army. In addition, Mezvinsky stated that “92.5 percent of all arable land” was given to Jews only, excluding Palestinians.
Terrorist attacks and atrocities have been conducted on both sides to one another. Mezvinsky believes the cause of terrorism is the oppression of Palestinians by Israelis as a result of Zionist views. However, he also expressed opinions that stated that all terrorism should be morally condemned.
In order to end the conflict in the Middle East, Mezvinsky proposed various steps that Palestinians must complete. Firstly, Palestine must establish its own leadership. In addition, Palestinians must define Israeli actions against them and specify human rights violations in order to evolve from their status as the underdog. Lastly, Mezvinsky advised that Palestine rethink and discard the two-state proposal due to its alleged impracticality. Resources of the land should be shared between the Israelis and Palestinians as a single state. Zionism should be eliminated and Israel must become democratic.
After Mezvinsky’s presentation, further discussion was held to answer the audience’s questions. Due to the controversial nature of the argument, the discussion between the speaker and viewers with alternative views on the issue became passionately heated. The speech however, allowed the audience to consider different points of view on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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