It was with heavy hearts and a somber attitude that the Gildenhorn institute opened their webinar on the Israel-Hamas War on Monday October 16th. The sobriety was palpable through the screen in both the speakers’ eyes and attitudes.
“Watching the horrifying events that have unfolded in Israel and Gaza has been extremely difficult and emotionally draining for all of us, both our students and our faculty convey to us a sense of helplessness and of hopelessness” Ilai Saltzman, director of the Gildenhorn Institute, opened the discussion.
Saltzman continued, “given the events in Israel and the Gaza Strip we felt it was our responsibility to engage our community on and off campus. and help us all reflect and address the conflict.”
The panel was composed of four speakers who spoke about the war with expertise in various areas of study such as the politics in the middle east, terrorism and the conflict.
The discussion opened with each speaker providing a brief overview of what they deemed most pertinent for the audience to know. The talk then switched over to a question and answer session led by Saltzman.
Mia Bloom, professor at Georgia state, researcher and author, started off the discussion by stating “I’ve actually had refused everything for the first week or so, I couldn’t really muster up the enthusiasm to talk about this.” She continued by saying “my first thought is for all the civilians both in Israel and in Gaza who are suffering.”
Marwa Maziad Ph.D, lecturer and researcher expressed a similar sentiment “It’s a very hard time, I can’t say I’m glad to be here, I’m almost dragged to speak, dragged to the class, to teach to engage at all.” Maziad lost a close friend in the conflict.
Maziad was surprised by her own reaction, “in pain you can actually have empathy for the pain of others, not the other way around.”
She describes how in the face of personal tragedy she “felt very much for the Gazans and the Palestinians and the stories and the voices and the smiles and the tears behind that as well.”
The speakers then shifted to a conversation surrounding information and strategy, attempting to explain the events unfolding and answer questions from both Saltzman and the viewers.
Scott Lasensky, lecturer on Israel studies outlined three “main immediate diplomatic priorities for the US.” The first of which is shaping Israel’s response to the attack from October 7th. He describes this as a mixture of support for Israel while avoiding “the prospects of humanitarian disaster,” as one of his colleagues termed it.
He describes the second priority as “deterring spillover on the region” to avoid a two front or regional war. The third priority includes the evacuation of American citizens still trapped in the region.
Thair Abu Ras, doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, discussed some themes concerning Israel and the U.S. and what he terms “the death of managing the conflict.” He explained that both the Israeli government and the international community have given into this myth that the conflict can be managed rather than solved and it has now “blown up in our faces.”
Another theme he discussed was the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. He argued that the U.S. has shown they do not understand the region nor do they have interest in understanding it.
“Is very important that the U.S. pay attention to the fact that it is the only power that can lead to a positive change.” He argues that to achieve this they need to be “good faith actors” who will step in as objective third parties and be assertive in the need for a solution.
Maziad commented that “there is now perhaps a need from the Israeli side believe it or not to have a Palestinian state…so you don’t have to deal the very irregularity of aspects of the attack.”
She points to the Palestinian Authority as a way to mediate the authority of Hamas in order to prevent future attacks.
Abu Ras agreed, stating “you need to support the Palestinian Authority. And by support, not only economically but politically.”
On a similar topic Maziad explained the issue of evacuating Palestinian refugees to Egypt. She argued that Gaza is Israel’s responsibility. Israel has the obligation “to maintain the civilians and treat them well under warfare law.”
Maziad explained that “Egypt owes it to the Palestinians not to allow for this kind of forced migration.”
For their closing statements, Saltzman asked the speakers about the “best case scenario moving forward.”
Lasensky pointed to the two main immediate goals, “a ceasefire and a resolution of the hostage crisis.” He also mentioned the value for the U.S. in “finding some way back to a situation where our investments in Arab-Israeli peace are accruing over time and not falling behind.”
Maziad mentioned “perhaps diplomacy would work in the next week or so, so the ground invasion would not even happen.”