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Palestinian-American activist Noura Erakat talks history of Israel-Palestinian conflict

On Tuesday Nov. 4, Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American activist and legal scholar, spoke about her experience and work in the Middle East and participated in a discussion with Macalester students about issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Erakat came to Macalester through the Department of Multicultural Life’s SPEAK! series.

Erakat began by speaking of her personal history and how she relates to Israel and Palestine. Erakat’s family immigrated to the United States from Palestine after the Six-Day War, when Israel increased its power in Palestinian territories.Erakat traveled to and was educated in Israel as a college student.

“There were certain places that Palestinians were allowed only, or not allowed out of,” Erakat said. “There were certain parts of Jerusalem that I could travel to, as a US citizen, because I had a blue passport, that my cousins who were born in Palestine couldn’t.”

Erakat said she remembers her experiences in Palestine as somewhat of an awakening. Her background is incredibly meshed with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been a struggle.

Erakat said she remembered wondering, “I’m Palestinian but I’m also American. Where do I place myself?”

Erakat briefly summarized the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to provide context for further discussion. She stressed the fact that at the time of Israel’s establishment by the United Nations, the idea was that there would be no exclusives states.

“There would be homelands, but these would not exclude those who don’t necessarily belong, which contravenes current thinking about the two-state solution,” said Erakat.

Erakat also explained that “at the time of the establishment of Israel, Palestinians were regarded as non-people, in the sense of not being entitled to self-determination. From then on, Israelis and pioneers have been basing Israeli policy on two axis.”

She continued, “Firstly, the acquisition of the greatest amount of land with the least amount of people on it. Secondly, the least amount of land, with the greatest number of Palestinians concentrated on it.”

Erakat continued to explain that the way this conflict is framed for most people, by mass media, is that Israel’s establishment mirrors the way the United States declared its independence from British colonizers.

“We have this mythical history that these brave American pioneers emancipated themselves from the yolk of British colonialism and yet there is an indigenous population that is being ethnically cleansed in order for these settlers to take root,” Erakat said. “Israel’s history mirrors that narrative. Israelis free themselves from the yolk of British colonization in Palestine.”

Erakat explains how the creation of Israel coincided with a push to remove the Palestinian population along with its culture.

“Israel established itself and basically Palestinians are to be removed to meet the quota of Jewish majority population. They are to be marginalized. Their history is also to be removed,” Erakat said.

Erakat’s speech was followed by a question and answer session. A common question asked was one regarding the responsibility of American citizens and residents to show support and interest in the issue.

“Part of our responsibility is ownership of our settler history”, Erakat said. “As US taxpayers, we already are a part of the problem. The U.S. provides Israel $3.1 billion a year. That’s not counting forgivable loans and military aid.”

“Being a part of the problem means we also have to be a part of the solution,” Erakat argued. “Palestinians have asked for international solidarity to urge the institutions that we are a part of to boycott, sanction and divest Israel until it complies with human rights norms mainly in the areas of the end of colonization of Arab lands, equality for the Palestinian citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. That gets us into the politics of solidarity.”

Students had several questions about details of the complex history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Erakat was keen on clarifying the intricacies of the situation.

She delved deeper into the issue of the right of return, specifying that the Palestinian refugee population today is 6.5 million people.

Erakat’s concluding thoughts reminded the audience to be wary when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s important to remember this isn’t about mutually exclusive narratives,” Erakat said. “The rejection of Israeli settler colonialism is a rejection of bigotry at large, which includes a bigotry against Jewish people. There is no movement for Palestinian self-determination and there shouldn’t be that is mutually exclusive with the rights and the freedoms of Jewish people.”

Erakat continued on to say, “Even those today who are advocates of the one-state solution have not advocated for the removal of Jewish people because of an embrace of that history. [Palestinians are] saying that we can be neighbors, but you can’t be my master.”

Student reactions to the event were overall quite favorable to Erakat’s speech.

“I thought she did a really good job explaining things,” Kristen Tuttle ’18 said. “She did a good job of dissecting the issue to make sure we weren’t only looking at it through her perspective but that we understood the other side.”

“I think she did a great job of clearly voicing perspectives that can be called radical, controversial or confrontational in a way that was so clearly part of her convictions and her life experience,” said Celeste Robinson ’16, a Mac SUPER member.

November 7, 2014

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