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American University Professor Navigates Peace in Israel-Palestine

American+University+Professor+Navigates+Peace+in+Israel-Palestine
Andrew Nardiello

On Nov. 16, a tense crowd in McGuire Hall fell silent as Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer of American University took the microphone from its stand and began his speech, “Pathways to Peace in Israel-Palestine: Lessons Learned,” the third of the Bunting Peace and Justice Speaker Series at Loyola this year.  

The highly attended event followed five weeks of fighting in Israel and Palestine that began on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants entered Israel near the Gaza border and killed 1,200 people and captured more than 200 others. Israel’s response has killed over 12,000 people in Gaza so far. Abu-Nimer said Hamas was targeting civilians, so it was not justified. He felt the same for what has been happening since Oct. 7 in Gaza. 

Abu-Nimer is a professor in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University with four decades of experience in nonviolence resolutions, interreligious conflict resolution, and interfaith dialogue in multiple conflict areas around the world. He was born and has lived in Israel and founded the Salam Institute for Peace and Justice  which enhanced his ability to speak on such a complex issue.  

He began his talk emphasizing the innocence of civilians and his non-violent approach to the issue. 

“All attacks against civilians are unjustified, regardless of who carries that. It doesn’t matter who carries it, I believe that and I have preached for it and I have worked for it all my life. I do operate from the non-violence framework, I think a non-violence framework is more effective and more humane to remove oppression,” he said.   

He then shifted towards how religious identity can be manipulated to justify violence, state violence, and perpetuate ethnic cleansing, something that has been done throughout human history. He said that Israel is now using this manipulation to justify a genocide against Palestinians. Yet, both sides use similar religious justifications for their claim to the land.  

“The narrative here both use the same discourse; the Jew in Israel says, ‘we have no other place to go’ and the Palestinian says, ‘we have no other place to go.’ So, it is clear that we are using this religious narrative in order to establish our right to the land, but remember historically Jews were in the land of Israel about 5%-7% in 1882. In 1948, after the war, 89% because there were 750,000 Palestinians displaced,” he said.  

He further critiqued both Israel and Hamas for using religious justifications to destroy each other. However, he also stated that people ignore the fact that Hamas had since changed its charter, which called for the destruction of Israel in 2017, now calling for a two-state solution. 

Abu-Nimer pointed out that Hamas is not the only source of government in Palestine. The Palestinian Authority, which is less radical than Hamas, has been negotiating peace with Israel for years. He explained why people turn to Hamas despite the existence of the Palestinian Authority. 

“If you were a Palestinian young person, 17-years-old and you lived 30 years under occupation and they tell you, ‘we are negotiating peace with them,’ you would say, ‘What did you bring for peace?’ That’s what Hamas uses, Hamas says, ‘Look, peace negotiations with the Israeli government, never going to get you anything, you tried for 30 years,’ and that’s why they are losing their legitimacy within the Palestinian community,” he said. 

 Hamas, which rose in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising, gained power in the Gaza Strip in the 2006 elections and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. The group has engaged in multiple conflicts with Israel since coming into power, including multiple short wars. Israel has stated their goal is to push Hamas out of power and bring back the hostages Hamas took on Oct. 7.  

Concluding the event, Abu-Nimer talked about what victory actually means for both sides of the conflict.  

“It’s not the total destruction [of either], but winning is Israelis and Palestinians to share the land, to create the conditions for a more peaceful and just future. Victory is a future with Israelis and Palestinians thriving, sharing the land, self-determination and freedom for both of them. Victory is to humanize the other,” he said.  

Dr. Elliot King, Professor of Communications at Loyola with a vast knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was ultimately left disappointed. He talked about how while Abu-Nimer said he supported a two-state solution, King did not feel the speech reflected that support.  

“The way he presented it, and even this might be my own sensitivities, but even the way he presented it, you know, he was so passionate about what he was saying, I didn’t see him creating that space for that kind of solution,” he said. 

King is still mourning his long time friend, Vivian Silver, who was killed on Oct. 7 by Hamas during their attack near the Gazan border. Silver was a peace activist who started an organization dedicated towards peace in the region and regularly volunteered with many other peace organizations in the region. Silver was a cofounder of Women Wage Peace and was on the board for B’Tselem, a Israeli human rights group.  

King has done a lot of research and work into Hamas. He believes Hamas is not going to set up a democratic, equitable state or actually work for peace.

“They’re just not, that’s not who they are. They are a theocratic, dictatorial organization. They are the same as ISIS, Islamic Caliphate in the whole Middle East, the same as Osama bin Laden, the same as the Taliban. That’s what they are. And that’s unusual. That’s not like casting dispersions of them, that’s who they are, that is by their ideology,” he said. 

He concluded by pointing out Hamas had coordinated everything to this point and knew the response to their attack would be severe.  

“For the specific moment we are in, Hamas totally wrote the script.  They knew that they would provoke a massive response from Israel and that there would be massive civilian casualties and ultimately the world would demand a ceasefire.  This was their plan.  Unfortunately, in my view, Israel played the part that Hamas wanted it to,” he said.  

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