Panel discusses war in Middle East

Stephen Gilson Jr.
LV Life Editor

The Inland Valley Interfaith Working Group for Middle East Peace and the University of La Verne Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted a panel discussion about the current war raging in the Middle East.

About 50 people attended the session Sunday in the Ludwick center to hear panelists Ahmed Soboh, chairman of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Gary Gilbert, associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College, and Andy Winnick, a member of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. 

The panel, moderated by University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner, focused on the following questions to the panelists: What did they think was the primary cause of the conflict between Israel and Palestine?  How did historical and political events influence the war today? What impact did the Oct. 7 start of the war and the ensuing war in Gaza have on this historical conflict, and what we U.S. citizens do to influence policy and work toward peace?

“The United States government can play a very key role in helping to end the war,” Soboh said. 

While the U.S. does not have “all the answers and played a hand in allowing the war to carry on as long as it has,” Soboh added, “(We) can help to ensure a peace deal is reached to end the conflict and allow Christians, Jews and Muslims to coexist in Palestine.”

The panel was a refreshing look at how conversations between people with vastly different backgrounds and identities can be conducted amicably, while allowing for constructive dialogue to take place. 

Winnick addressed the cause of the conflict.

“The modern state of Israel is based on a misrepresentation, or what some people would call an intentional lie,” Winnick said. “It all starts with an understanding of the provisions of and the legal status of the partition plan the General Assembly of the United Nations set up in November of 1947.”

The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a proposal laid out by the U.N. for how land should be divided between both Israel and Palestine in 1947. While the Jewish people of the area agreed with the plan, the Arabic people of Palestine rejected the proposal. 

The portion of land designated for the Arabic people included the Gaza strip on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, running until the halfway point of the border with Egypt. They were also given a large portion of land, called the West Bank, surrounding the holy city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem would be designated as a separate entity and governed by an international body. 

As a result of the disagreement, both Israelis and Arabs went to war in 1948 after the British government withdrew its military from the area. Overcoming the smaller and less organized Arab Liberation Army composed of soldiers from surrounding Arab states, the Israeli forces won the war and declared its independence. 

The land division that follows sets up the circumstances for war today. Gaza was reduced to a much smaller portion of land along the Mediterranean Sea, with Israeli land encompassing Gaza. The West Bank would also be downsized considerably, with Israeli land surrounding the west side of the bank. The West Bank still shares a border with Syria and Jordan. 

Although Gilbert agreed with most of Winnick’s words, he disagreed strongly with calling Jews “settlers.”

“This is not a traditional war of right vs. wrong, but a war of right vs. right,” Gilbert said. “Calling the Jewish people settlers is wrong; they cannot be labeled settlers if they are one of the indigenous people of the land. They belong to the land just as much as the Palestinians do.”

Winnick also noted that the Israeli government is trying to weaponize speech. 

“There is a strong movement within the Israeli government that associates those who speak against the government as antisemitic,” Winnick said. “That is a lie and not true. Part of this tension the community has brought on itself by tolerating criticism of the Israeli government as criticism of Judaism.”

It is important to recognize that universities across the United States have been at the forefront of protests for the better part of the last century, with the most memorable protests taking place during the Vietnam War, the speakers said.

They also talked about recent protests and subsequent arrests at Pomona College, during which students staged a sit-in to try to get the college to divest from funding Israel. 

“They need to listen to the concerns the students have,” Soboh said. “They need to understand the difference between political engagement, anti-war and anti-oppression (activity) and (stop) associating that with antisemitism. These students were simply asking to stop the war.”

The audience listened intensively to the discussion and shared their thoughts on how to solve the conflict going forward. 

“My hope is that aid can be brought to those in need, that the mental and physical suffering can be lifted, and that peace and a positive-life for all can be established,” said Reed Gratz, professor of Music and Tikkun Olam advisor, who attended Sunday’s event.

Stephen Gilson Jr. can be reached at stephen.gilson@laverne.edu.

Stephen Gilson Jr. is a sophomore journalism major with a concentration in broadcast journalism. He played baseball and football in high school and is an avid sports enthusiast.

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