I am writing to express my concerns and critique regarding the three Comment articles recently published in The Varsity, dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict. The articles contain biases and omissions that I believe are worth addressing. The risk of not addressing these issues is perpetuating the logic that leads to antisemitism and islamophobia spreading under the pretext of the current war. 

Re: “The Western response to the Israel-Palestine conflict is hypocritical” 

In this article penned by Raafia Shahid, the terminology employed to describe Israeli citizens victimized by Hamas is notably skewed. Shahid utilizes the phrase “the killing of Israeli settler civilians,” a mischaracterization given their location was the southern region of Israel, an area recognized under international law as legitimately belonging to Israel

Shahid adopts a writing that can be interpreted as derogatory in her reference to Israel, labelling it “the Zionist state,” and proceeds to draw a parallel between the actions of Hamas, specifically the heinous killing of innocent individuals, and the operations of the Israeli military against Palestinians since the year 2008. Strikingly, she appears to make no effort to distinguish between civilian casualties and targeted Hamas operatives. 

Further into her commentary, Shahid characterizes the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 as a “catastrophe,” which is the translation of “nakba.” It is noteworthy that Shahid and yours truly are affiliated with the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and it is fair to acknowledge that we should agree to disagree on equating the foundation of Israel with a “catastrophe,” but it is essential to maintain proper rhetoric and stick to facts.

Using the term “Nakba,” which translates to “catastrophe” in Arabic, to refer to the creation of the Republic of Israel in 1948 can be read as implying a sense of calamity and loss. The term inherently carries a negative connotation.

The article also expresses that “in Israel the far-right government has created an apartheid regime that allows for them to regularly harass Palestinians and treat them as second-class citizens.” The term “apartheid” originated in the context of South Africa, where a systematic, institutionalized regime of racial segregation and discrimination was enforced by the government.

Some individuals and human rights organizations have used the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, citing issues such as restrictions on movement, unequal allocation of resources, and disparate legal systems. However, Israel’s citizens of Palestinian or Arab origin have the same legal rights as any other citizen, including the right to vote and serve in the parliament, something that the South African apartheid disallowed, and Israel even has an Arab Democratic Party.

Re: “U of T departments’ silence on Palestine displays immense cowardice”

In this article by Fatima Zahra Mohammed, there is an accusation against Israel for perpetuating “75 years of occupation,” dating back to its establishment as a Republic in 1948, and labelling it as “an apartheid state that is breaking international law to wipe out an indigenous population.” 

Israel stands as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish People, whose indigeneity to the region of Judea is backed by historical and archaeological verifiable facts, now constituting a part of contemporary Israel. Spanning a historical continuum of three millennia, the Jewish people have maintained their presence and preserved their cultural memory in their ancestral homeland, notwithstanding myriad attempts at obliteration. 

Therefore, it is a misnomer to label Israel as an occupier on its own terrain, a land where Arabs are also indigenous. Israel epitomizes a liberal democracy. Israeli law prohibits discrimination based on race, and the government effectively enforces these prohibitions.

Re: “We have to acknowledge that Hamas’ recent attack did not occur in a vacuum” 

I am especially disturbed by one of the statements by Lina Obeidat that appeared in print: “However, if some of them branch out into violent resistance, as they sometimes do, and if more civilian lives are regrettably lost on both sides as a result, let it not taint the image of all Palestinians and discourage support for their cause. Instead, let the international community take the deaths of these civilians as yet another sign that the ‘arc of the moral universe’ is not bending quickly enough in the direction of justice and that they must take action.” 

I see this as a blatant attempt to legitimize violence, oddly paired with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader known for his radical commitment to non-violence, who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The statement “if some of them branch out into violent resistance, as they sometimes do” is simultaneously infantilizing and dehumanizing. Dehumanization flourishes when people see themselves and others not as individuals, but as “us against them.” “We” are victims — “they” are aggressors. It is only in this binary framework that violent acts can somehow be framed as just and noble, and murder can somehow be reflective of “the moral universe.”

While it is essential to scrutinize the actions of nations, it is equally important to ensure that such scrutiny is grounded in reason.

This comment article overlooks the 2016 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (UNSCR2334), which calls for an end to Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories and underscores the importance of a two-state solution. 

UNSCR2334 explicitly condemns violence against civilians and calls for the disarming of terrorist groups. It urges both parties to act on their obligations under the roadmap to peace, including the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting and dismantling terrorist capabilities.

Supporting all forms of resistance, including violent ones, raises serious ethical concerns. Promoting or condoning violence, even indirectly, goes against the principles of peace and the value of human life. The United Nations, through various resolutions and statements, has consistently called for non-violent resolutions to conflicts and the protection of civilians.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization in 2002 by the Canadian government, alongside the United States (US) and the European Union, for “us[ing] the Gaza Strip as a base for terrorist operations aimed against Israel.” When Hamas took control of Gaza in March 2006, 600 Palestinians were killed with such brutality that 35-year-old teacher Mohammad Ahmed-Hassan called it a “genocide.” 

In 2022, The Independent Commission for Human Rights, the human rights ombudsman organization of the Palestinian Authority, received at least 160 complaints against the police and internal security services in the Gaza Strip for torture and horrific conditions at detention centres run by the interior ministry. 

Human Rights Watch blames Hamas for arbitrary detention, torture, extra judicial killings, and other violence that regularly goes unpunished. The reports mention that Hamas terrorists deliberately shot at least 49 people in the legs who supported a rival faction between December 28, 2008, and January 31, 2009. Hamas also claims they want to liberate Palestine

Even more, there are several Civil Rights problems in Gaza and the West Bank. In October 2022, 25-year-old Ahmad Abu Marhia, a gay Palestinian man, was found decapitated on the streets of his hometown in the West Bank after living in Israel as an asylum seeker, where, according to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, about 90 2SLGBTQ+ Palestinians live. Also, in 2022, sisters Wissam and Fatimah al-Tawil, living in Gaza, aged 24 and 20, were denied access to a prosecutor to pursue their claims of domestic violence in court. 

In the words of Peter Beaumont, the Guardian’s former Jerusalem correspondent, “[Hamas] administers the education service while its police have broken the bones of children caught wearing scarfs signalling family affiliation with the rival Fatah movement.” Even in the context of political struggles, Hamas’ justification of violence is unacceptable and breaches the international consensus on countering terrorism. 

This letter, in its current form, lacks a comprehensive view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, omitting key aspects of the situation, such as the need for disarmament of terrorist groups, the condemnation of violence, and the pursuit of a two-state solution, as highlighted in SCR2334. 

Robert Axelrod’s 1984 masterpiece The Evolution of Cooperation highlights the importance of cooperative behaviour. His insights have profound implications in international relations. It is time to focus on the mechanisms that foster cooperation in political systems.

The role of media 

The role of media and public discourse is essential. It is incumbent upon outlets like The Varsity to set a high standard, steering the conversation away from violence and certainly away from those who describe civilian deaths as an acceptable but “regrettable” outcome. 

In closing, I urge The Varsity to maintain a reasonable approach when covering international issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict. Journalism influences public opinion, and it is imperative to uphold the highest standards of accuracy, fairness, and ethics. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective. I look forward to seeing more comprehensive discussions on this issue in your future publications. I remain hopeful that through reasoned dialogue and a steadfast commitment to peace, a just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can be achieved. 

Mauricio “Pachá” Vargas Sepúlveda is a first-year PhD student studying political science, in the international relations and public policy track, at U of T.

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