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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College hosts two community forums to discuss Israel-Hamas War

Hundreds of community members attended both events, with thousands more watching online.

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On Tuesday, Oct. 10 and Thursday, Oct. 12, the Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies programs held public events titled “A Discussion on the Horrific Events Unfolding in Israel and Gaza” to consider the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Participating in the discussions were Jewish studies program chair Susannah Heschel, Middle Eastern studies senior lecturer Ezzedine Fishere, Middle Eastern studies professor Jonathan Smolin and government visiting professor Bernard Avishai. 

The events were co-sponsored by the Dean of the College, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dickey Center, Ethics Institute, government department, Hillel at Dartmouth, Jewish studies program, Leslie Center for the Humanities, Middle Eastern studies program, Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, Office of the President and the Tucker Center.

On Oct. 10, the forum reached a full capacity of 80 attendees in Haldeman 041, with over a dozen people watching a live broadcast in an adjoining room and over 1,600 people on a livestream, Dickey Center communications manager Lars Blackmore said.

In her introduction to the event on Tuesday, Heschel said the goal of the discussion was to “deepen understanding” by bringing together both “personal experiences” and “scholarly interest.”

“We’re gathering here together as a community because we’re pained by the horror that we’ve been watching and reading about this weekend,” Heschel said. 

Several members of the audience objected to the perceived angle that they thought the panel on Oct. 10 was taking on the conflict. One member of the audience walked out in the middle of an answer from Fishere about whether he equated Israel’s actions in the past several decades with the violence Hamas is commiting. 

“If you want to understand how this conflict goes on and on all those years, you have to remember that there are multiple perspectives,” Fishere said in response to the student walking out. “Each perspective lives in their world and refuses to acknowledge, not just the legitimacy, but even the presence of a possible other perspective.”

Regarding a question about the panel’s perceived lack of condemnation of Hamas, Heschel said that everyone in the room condemns the terrorist organization and its aggression.

“Everybody came here tonight because you’re concerned, because you’re upset, because you’re worried and because you want to try to understand what is going on and because yes, you think it’s absolutely horrible, and we all condemn any acts of terrorism that happen,” Heschel said. 

Anfisa Kryvtsun ’27, who attended the event on Tuesday, said she felt the goals of the event lacked clarity.

“In my opinion, the panel was probably put together very quickly because the College didn’t know how to respond and when to respond,” Kryvtsun said. “It was, in the end, sort of a Q&A where they did not even start it with statements, which became a problem later in the session when people said that they were not even sure what the [faculty] were doing there.”

There were several formatting changes between the event on Tuesday and the event on Thursday, as the second event was moved to Filene Auditorium and was attended by 200 in-person audience members. 

In her introductory remarks on Thursday, Heschel said the goal of the forum was designed to understand and hear from an array of perspectives. 

“We are here for an academic forum,” Heschel said. “It’s crucial in holding these kinds of discussions that all voices are heard.” 

Additionally, Heschel said she wanted to emphasize that Hamas’s actions do not equal that of the Palestinian people, and that the state of Israel do not represent the perspectives of the Jewish people.

While discussing how to have civil conversations about polarizing topics, Avishai emphasized that people are “not categories.” The young people who were killed by Hamas over the weekend wanted peace and many would have supported rights for Palestinians, Avishai said. Nonetheless, when they were shot, the concert-goers were turned into a “category,” she added. 

“The problem is precisely that you can get turned into a category by heinous crimes like this,” Avishai said. “I don’t see the logic of turning people into a category that allows them to be killed at random.” 

Another audience member asked whether it was worth speaking up on sensitive issues if whatever one says is “bound to offend someone.” In response, Heschel said that studying an issue does not necessarily condone or support it.

“We obviously condemn, without question, the slaughter of human beings, and when we speak to each other, we have to recognize that emotions are raw,” Heschel said. “The most important thing right now is to be kind. Let’s be kind to each other, let’s keep it at that level right now.”

Additionally, Fishere said there can be different forms of discussion: indignant discussion, advocacy or the attempt to “understand what is going on.” Fishere argued universities like Dartmouth have an advantage in engaging in discussions with the goal of understanding one another.

Another question asked whether Israel was committing a “form of apartheid,” and, if so, what were acceptable forms of resistance. 

“International law grants occupied people the right to resist occupation, and [it also] gives occupiers the right to suppress resistance, but what is not acceptable is targeting civilians,” Fishere said. “Terrorism is not covered by the right of resistance.”

Additionally, Avishai added that if people had “reasonable, non-violent ways” of fighting for freedom, then they should never choose violence.

In an interview after the Thursday forum, Heschel said the idea for the forums emerged after she spoke with German studies chair Yuliya Komska and Middle Eastern studies chair Tarek El-Ariss. Heschel added that the initial idea for the event was to host a faculty lunch, but Dean of Faculty Elizabeth Smith suggested that the conversation should include community members, faculty and students.  

“I hope this kind of engagement serves as a model for students to engage in a similar fashion,” Heschel said. “My father always used to say that the mark of wisdom is the ability to change your mind. As a faculty member, I continue to learn and change my perspective.”

Government professor Russell Muirhead attended the event on Thursday and said it was an “extraordinary” event.

“We had professors with different points of view, and their comments were full of wisdom and heart and humanity,” Muirhead said. “I don’t think there is a university in the country that could host an event like the one we just saw tonight.”