Student Voices for Palestine and the Notre Dame Muslim Student Association hosted a student-led panel Thursday to discuss a brief history of the events leading up to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and the current crisis in Gaza.
“The goal is to provide perspective on an issue that is often not shared in the United States,” said Mohamed El Gazzah, president of the Muslim Students Association. “We know that we may not change your mind on this issue and we are not here to tell you exactly what to think. But we are simply here to propose that there is another perspective with valid arguments that we can consider.”
The event also saw the participation of voices from the local community. Zenah Farhan, a South Bend resident and graduate of Saint Xavier University, attended with her sister.
“We’re both here to find out more about what’s going on. And we’re also Palestinians, so we want to make sure we’re as educated as possible. We need to be informed advocates,” Farhan said. “It’s not enough to be outraged by what you see in the media. [You need] be able to eloquently explain how you feel and why it’s wrong.
Farhan and his sister, who attends a local high school, heard about the event on social media.
Graduate students Seham Kafafi and Francesca Freeman spoke alongside Notre Dame sophomore Blair Kedwell on the panel. Kedwell is the president of Student Voices for Palestine.
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The presentation began with an account of the history of aggression between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the current state of Gaza.
“So this has been happening for 75 years plus another 40 days,” Kafafi said.
Speakers took turns speaking and sharing statistics on different areas of the conflict.
“More than 11,000 civilians have died. That’s one in 200 people,” Kafafi said. “There are 1.5 million people who are now homeless. Forty thousand homes have been destroyed. And there are over 700,000 people taking refuge in UN facilities.”
The speakers discussed the “Nakba,” the displacement and dispossession of Palestinian Arabs that occurred during and after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, according to the speakers and the United Nations.
“Every Palestinian has a personal relationship with the Nakba in very different ways, whether they were forced to become a refugee or whether they were forced to become an Israeli citizen. My family became Israeli citizens,” Kedwell said. “But the Nakba led to the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians, who at the time represented about half the population. Hundreds of villages were destroyed.”
The 1947 Partition Plan, which speakers identified as a key moment in the history of the conflict, proposed the division of British-mandated Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with an international administration for Jerusalem.
“The distribution of land gives over 50% of the land to the Israelis when they were the minority of the population at the time,” Kafafi said.
The speakers then discussed Zionism and how World War II changed the American Jewish perspective on the movement.
“Up until World War II, Jews in America were actually quite divided about Zionism. There was a really big breakup. And most of all, people didn’t really care,” Freeman said.
Freeman, who now identifies as anti-Zionist, said she is Jewish but became more critical of Israel after a trip there in college. You talked about the power of Christian Zionism in the United States. Christian Zionism is the theological and political movement that advocates the creation and preservation of a Jewish homeland in Israel, in part because the group believes it is a prerequisite for the second coming of Christ.
“In American discourse, [there is] the idea that anything anti-Zionist is also inherently anti-Semitic. This comes from a few other places, but the Anti-Defamation League, which is tasked with writing about anti-Semitism, is very insistent that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and that’s obviously highly problematic,” Freeman said. “This is not true, and, indeed, to insist that this is so is itself anti-Semitic, but it is an extremely influential narrative shaping American discourse and policy.”
The panel concluded with questions from the audience and several students sharing their thoughts on the situation.
“Both sides lose sight of the value of human life,” said junior Andrew Donovan. “It’s not like a football match where you pick a team and you want them to win. We are trying to end a war, stop children from dying and save lives.”