On Thursday night Jacob Lewis, assistant professor of global politics at WSU, along with fellow panelists, discussed the war between Israel and Palestine and included insights from two varying perspectives.
Avishay Ben Sasson-Gords, lecturer in the Department of Government at Harvard University and postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University discussed the side of Israeli politics.
Specifically, his field is political theory and international relations when it comes to his studies he focuses on civil-military relations and their role in democracies, he said.
Dana El Kurd, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Richmond discussed the Palestinian side of politics.
Sasson-Gords is currently working on a study of civil-military relations and focusing on a test case both on Israel and the US, he said.
“Two societies that have very different but very large investments in security and military affairs,” Sasson-Gords said.
Another issue Sasson-Gords has been working on is Israeli foreign policy and strategy, especially as it connects to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
“I have a belief that this is a sign where I have a better understanding and perspective and as a part of this I’ve also done academic work but also policy work on Israeli public opinion towards Palestinian efforts to move Israel into action,” Sasson-Gords said. “Recently within the context of a conflict, understanding Israeli choices, Israeli conduct. Israeli politics and how things intersect.”
Lewis started off the discussion by asking the panelists about the relationship as a governing body.
Hamas is in a governance position in the Gaza Strip, El Kurd said.
“Not because Palestinians only in Gaza voted for them, it wasn’t just Gazanz that voted for them. It was a plurality of voters in the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territory so both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the parliamentary elections of 2006,” she said.
El Kurd believes that there is sometimes a conflation in American public discourse about the West Bank, not Hamas, and Gaza being Hamas or people in Gaza not voting for them, she said.
Lewis then asked Sasson-Gords to help the audience understand how could Israel experience interpret these events
He said that he would be talking about Israelis with a broad brush. Still, one distinction when people talk about Israel what they are referencing is how Americans talk about it as 80% majority of Jewish Israelis and 20% are Arab citizens of Israel, some belonging to Palestinian identity.
“It’s important to keep in mind that we’re actually not speaking for all Israelis, but for that group of Israelis or for the predominant group,” Sasson-Gords said.” October 7, earthshattering, and that deeply informs on every possible level about the difference, every element of responses ever since.”
Sasson-Gords said after what happened on Oct. 7, people became very insecure, locked themselves in their homes and stayed away from border areas, he said.
“It’s a dangerous combination on a personal level, it serves to encourage people to violence,” he said.
He also commented that it has been the largest killing of Jewish people since the Holocaust.
“That again triggers a strong response in terms of the need to act out, now on a more static level,” he said.
Lewis then asked El Kurd adding to the previous question, how Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank interpreted Oct. 7 and the response.
“Unprecedented and really difficult for Palestinians wherever they are to even absorb the level of destruction,” she said.
It is a new stage of previous wars that have happened before between Israel and Palestine. Specifically from how social media is depicting it, she said.
“There is a lot of fear among Palestinians, that Gaza is the first step that what might be learned on the side of the Israeli decision-makers from this conflict is that they engaged in this level of destruction,” El Kurd said.
Lewis also wanted to ask about the panelist’s specific research.
Sasson-Gords’ recent article examines whether Israelis perceive nonviolent opposition to Palestinians that this non-violence may be perceived as terrorism itself and how in some cases the line between nonviolent action and terrorism seems to be blurred, Lewis said.
Lewis asked him to go into detail when it came to finding the context of pro-Palestinian activism around the world.
Sasson-Gords said that the study conducted was to figure out the motivation for a study that is not readily apparent when people read and what they wanted to understand was if there was anything the Palestinians could do as non-violent as possible that Israelis would consider as opposed to Israeli interest, but still legitimate.
“We went out and did this a while ago, we didn’t do it in the context of the war and I think had we done it now our answers would have been our findings would have been very different,” he said.
What Sasson-Gords found was that on a one – 10 scale people, Jewish Israelis tended to see this closer to 10 than to one.
“The result was driven by people’s political opinion which is something you often find in American politics as well and Israelis that were on the right were significantly more likely to view Palestinian action of any sort akin to terrorism. Whereas once he started moving left on the political spectrum, the gradient and the variance in the views shift,” he said.
Lewis then asked El Kurd about her book which is centered around the weakness of Palestinian civil society as it buckled under 50 years of occupation and dueling authoritarian regimes, he said.
El Kurd provided an overview of Palestinian civil society.
“They developed a pretty robust civil society,” she said. “Civil society was quite strong in despite the fact that there was no taxation there was no repression, that kind of activity and it was strong enough that they were able to basically initiate the Palestinian first intifada, the first Palestinian uprising king of taking the Palestine Liberation Organization which was the Liberation Organization of Palestinians based outside of the occupied territories taking them by surprise to some degree.”
With this the process following the Oslo Accords led to essentially the dismantling of a lot of that kind of grassroots civil society that existed in occupied territories, El Kurd said.
Overall El Kurd highlights the challenges of repression faced by Palestinian civil society across to disillusionment and radicalization among certain Palestinian society contributing to the conflict.
Lewis finally asked the two panelists how the near-universal draft in Israel, where both males and females serve in the military, shapes Israeli perceptions of war.
Sasson Gords answered that it does and impacts both the conduct of the conflict and future political discourse.
“One is the real material costs of this, so the way Israel was able to overnight basically, expand its military four times over the size of half the US active duty military. So in the beginning the warriors are always able to feel a military of about half a million soldiers by relying on reserves, but that means that this is about 360,000 Israelis that are out of the workforce, prime working age, higher income Israelis which means that the economy is shut down,” he said.