Events hosted by Justice for Palestine (JFP) at HLS tend to provoke strong reactions. While such reactions may be unavoidable, we believe that JFP stands above all for open discussion. What we truly seek to provoke is critical thought and re-examination of easy assumptions and mainstream stories. Thus, we value every opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation about the thorny legal, political, and moral questions presented by one of the longest military occupations of recent history.
One of JFP’s recent events, which took place last Thursday, was a panel entitled “40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA” in recognition of the fact that these dates are defining moments in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and that Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans are the conflict’s central agents. The panel featured a nuanced discussion between several well-known American scholars on the history and future of the issue. Linguist and activist professor Noam Chomsky of MIT challenged the mainstream historical account of the development of peace proposals since the 1970s, presenting an alternative narrative of Israeli and American scuppering of peace deals proposed by the international community and the Arab states.
Historian and political economics professor Beshara Doumani of UC Berkeley focused on the question of Palestinian agency and provided an internal critique of the form of Palestinian political organization. Doumani argued that Palestinian political organization must develop to more inclusively take account of the different constitutive groups that together form the Palestinian people. Social psychologist and conflict resolution professor Nadim Rouhana of George Mason University argued that certain political and social processes within Israeli society not only stand in the way of an end to the conflict, but in fact exacerbate it and intensify its danger. While criticizing the view that the conflict is one of legal and power symmetry between the parties, he urged all Palestinians to seriously engage the Israeli Jewish community to resolve the deadlock.
During the following question-and-answer session, moderated by HLS professor Janet Halley, the panelists discussed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Chomsky argued that the implementation of such a right was completely impractical, as the Taba negotiations of 2001 demonstrated; Doumani and Rouhana differed about whether Palestinians could, or ethically should, give up a fundamental human right, notwithstanding its ability to be realistically implemented.
In response to another question asking whether the panelists believed that the Palestinians had never had true agency to address their situation and, if so, how they viewed the first intifada, Chomsky agreed that the first intifada exemplified Palestinian political agency, but pointed out that it was suppressed by the Israelis. Rouhana noted that the Palestinian political experience, though by no means lacking in agency, was fundamentally shaped by its experience as an indigenous population unable to successfully resist foreign settlers, and Doumani pointed out that his critique of the Palestinian political movement centered around the issue of focusing Palestinian agency.By hosting this panel, JFP aimed both to spark a genuine dialogue within the Harvard community and to emphasize that justice for Palestinians is an objective which does not imply injustice to anyone else. (Indeed, if anything, the speakers on the panel reiterated that a solution predicated on justice for all involved in the conflict would be the only means of achieving its long-term resolution.)
JFP does not endorse particular answers. Rather, we are committed to asking questions, critiquing pre-packaged ideological solutions on all sides of the issue, and generating different ways of thinking about answers. We seek to do this through civilized and critical conversation, and we gauge each of our events by its effectiveness in attracting an audience of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. By these standards, last Thursday’s panel – attended by a broad range of individuals from the Harvard and larger Cambridge communities – was a resounding success.
JFP is only one piece of the puzzle. Even at HLS there are other organizations active in relation to this issue. What JFP seeks to provide, however, is a unique and in-depth perspective that has often, regrettably, been absent from serious public debate in this country. True to the spirit of HLS and the study of the law, justice is central to our agenda. We hope that critical engagement with this debate and these issues will take us further down the road towards justice for all, without which, we believe, there cannot be justice at all.
This piece was written by the board members of Justice for Palestine at Harvard Law School.