Sa’ed Atshan presented an incredibly well-researched, eloquent and necessary talk on Feb. 1. As the only Palestinian on campus, no words would serve justice to my feelings of gratefulness and thankfulness to Dr. Atshan, Dr. Finkelstein and the Center for Ethics at Muhlenberg. The reason as to why it was imperative to give Dr. Atshan the floor to speak about his story is that there is an overwhelming support of Zionism on this campus. It was a beneficial learning opportunity not only for the people who weren’t very knowledgeable about the topic, but also the people who fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. With that being said, I personally felt very disrespected and also disappointed with the way that the students handled his talk. It felt as if some students joined the event not to learn and ask discussion-provoking questions, but rather to dehumanize and belittle the points from Dr. Atshan’s own experiences. Therefore, I think Muhlenberg still has a lot of work to do in this regard, and that speakers addressing similar issues and taking the same standpoints as Dr. Atshan are crucial to the student body. The reason I say that a similar viewpoint is needed is because we already have the opposing one on campus, in large numbers. In the two years that I’ve been on campus, it’s been incredibly rare, almost never, that I hear any discussion about Palestine (or in other words, the “other” side, to speak broadly). Considering the fact that we’re at a liberal arts college, and for many other reasons, the lack of understanding and knowledge towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs to change.
To be pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionism is not to be anti-Semitic
One thing that also made me feel very uncomfortable was the fact that there were numerous requests to bring a speaker from the opposing perspective of Dr. Atshan’s to address the student body. To reiterate what Dr. Atshan said, nobody ever asks to hear homophobic perspectives, or white supremacists, or anti-Semitic perspectives, so why should there be chance for any anti-Palestine oppressor to speak?
As some may call my beliefs anti-Semitic and extremist, I think it is important to clarify a few things while highlighting significant parts of Dr. Atshan’s speech.
Firstly: to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionism is not to be anti-Semitic, but it is rather to be supportive for basic human rights for Palestinians (the victims, the oppressed) and against the occupation (Israel, the oppressors). I would be dumbfounded to hear a claim stating that Israel hasn’t been occupying Palestine, or that Palestine doesn’t exist. These beliefs require a basic history lesson before starting an intelligent conversation/discussion about the conflict.
Secondly, as Dr. Atshan stated, a Jewish state is not an ideal place to live if you are somebody that does not identify to be Jewish. Equally, an Islamic state is not an ideal place to live if you are somebody that does not identify to be Muslim. This does not take away from the need for a Jewish homeland, or a Muslim homeland, or a Christian homeland, for all three faiths are equal in importance and deserve the right of respect and existence.
The reality of things is this: Palestine is an occupied land. Jewish people need and quite frankly, truly deserve their own homeland and their basic human rights, but not at the expense of Palestinian lives — or any lives for that matter. As a populous that went through innumerable accounts of trauma, religious cleansing, murder, rape, torture, suffering, and so many more indescribable events, Jewish people’s sense of understanding for the Palestinian occupation and their ongoing ethnic cleansing should accompany basic knowledge. After all, Dr. Atshan’s talk was part of the “Troubling Truth” series, and we need to accept it as it is.
With all of this being said, I encourage everybody reading this to reach out to me to have a discussion about all of this. The least any of us could do is be open-minded and up for coffee and a chat. A discussion’s purpose is not to convince, but rather to educate.