An Absent Conversation: Trump and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

I woke up in a state of stunned horror the morning after Donald Trump became President-elect: The States elected a man who is accused of multiple accounts of sexual assault and is an inspiration for growing white nationalist movements. To take my mind off of things, I decided to pick up the Amherst Student to read the opinion section. As I turned the pages of the newspaper, I saw a “Birthright” ad, which is always extremely uncomfortable for me to see as an Arab, especially because it tries to make Game of Thrones jokes. The ad immediately made me think of Trump’s presidency and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Did people know about his plans? Were people going to discuss this on campus? I waited for a long time before realizing that there was no space on campus to discuss the conflict to begin with. In this article, I want to add perspective to the Trump campaign statements, to elucidate the gravity of his plans and to critique our campus culture to start this conversation.

If you did not know, there was an official Trump campaign video addressing Israeli Republicans. Mike Pence says various things that are in dire need of criticism. One: “Currently, Israel lives under the ominous shadow of a threatening neighbor, who seeks to wipe her off the face of the earth.” It’s funny he says that given that Google removed Palestine from its maps. Two: “She is hated by too many progressives because she is successful and her people are free.” At the expense of oppressing Palestinian lives. Three: It recruits civilian soldiers who “fight their nation’s battles with decency, humanity, restraint.” It must take so much restraint for Israeli soldiers to partake in knee-capping Palestinians, and so much decency to threaten queer Palestinians and make them spy on their own families and neighbors (ask Swarthmore professor Sa’ed Atshan to elaborate). Four: “How could any good person not stand with Israel?” With the current oppressive operations of the state of Israel, a lot of good people cannot do so. However, “The world will know this — America stands with Israel.” From this campaign video, I gleaned one thing: This incoming administration knows very little about the conflict.

As many know, Trump can be all bark with no bite. I was nevertheless shocked to learn that he does not think that the settlements of Israel will hinder making peace with Palestinians. What were his concrete plans for the conflict? Two things: His presidency will mean that Israel can go unchecked and have freer hands in settlement construction and that he could carry out his promise of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. These policies are in support of the right-wing Zionist agenda. For that reason, Naftali Bennett, an Israeli minister, confidently said, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.” Trump’s promise of moving the embassy would be in violation of UN resolution 181 (but do those really matter anyway?) and against the UN security council’s declaration that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal (the settlements continue expanding there anyway). It seems obvious that Trump’s plans make the prospect of reaching a final peace agreement harder because the possibility of the two-state solution will continue to shrink with the expansion of settlements. There are good reasons to lose hope and to fear the incoming administration. The States needs to critique the state of Israel as it currently operates and exists because of Israel’s direct impact on Palestinian lives and land. One cannot be silent about oppression. (If you don’t think Palestinian lives matter, then this needs to be a completely different conversation.) This conversation is extremely imperative because when one is complicit in what Israel does to extend and maintain its control, one is complicit in the perpetrated Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiments of its actions. As people, we need to analyze the actions of all states and governments, and critically think about the effects of legislation.

Why should you care? Well, you should care because your tax money goes into humungous sums of aid that the States sends to Israel. Most recently, Israel was granted a 38 billion dollar package to be spread across a decade as military aid. Immediately after that, the Israeli government had plans to expand the settlements in the West Bank to house settlers from a nearby illegal outpost, Amona, which lay on private Palestinian land. In other words, as an American, you have a direct impact in this conflict. People will tell me it is nuanced. No, it is not. The West Bank and East Jerusalem have illegal settlements, which is in violation of international law. Period. And occupation is occupation. Period. Once we start talking about this conflict with the correct terms, we can start having a constructive conversation.

Now, why is this conversation absent on campus? For one, people have become desensitized to the conflict, and Israel’s control over parts of Palestinian land has become normalized (and legalized in some cases). The first step is to educate yourself about the conflict and its history. I have been told by many people that they do not want to bring up the topic or to be involved in it because they do not know enough. [I recommend “A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” (sixth edition).] To start, there could be collaboration between affinity groups to discuss the conflict further and there could be conversation about the two-state solution vs. the bi-national, single state solution. No matter what, I hope the people most affected by and passionate about the conflict will be there. Let’s be proactive and start creating spaces for this conversation to happen.