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One History, Two Nations, Thousands of Deaths, and No Solution: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

January 22, 2015
by

Ruben Kon, Fall 2014 Intern at The Eisenhower Institute’s DC office

Of all world conflicts, none seems to be as explosive and insoluble as the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Since being conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E., the region, now known as Palestine, has had a tumultuous history under the control of numerous empires, including the Islamic Empire, Egypt, the Fatimids, the Great Seljuq Empire, the Crusaders, the Ayyubids, the Ottomans, and even the British. For the Palestinians, the last 100 years have been characterized by colonization, expulsion, and military occupation.[i] For the Jewish people, Israel has brought stability to their lives after centuries of persecution.

While the media is bombarding us with news on air strikes in Israel and Palestine, it is critical to remember the core of the conflict. Many opinionated articles seem to lack a historical context for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, it is worth refreshing our memories about the last century of history in the Palestine region.

The first groups of Jewish immigrants came to the region that is now Palestine at the end of the 19th century, while it was still under Ottoman rule. Around 1914 the region had a total population of 722,000 of which 60,000 were Jewish. In the midst of World War I, in 1916 the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire started because of the Arab national consciousness of a destiny apart from the Turks. Because it denounced the Ottoman Sultan, the revolt was of great value to British and French forces engaged in battle with the Turks. In the 1917 Balfour Declaration the British government stated it saw fit the establishment of a Jewish nation in the region.

While fighting back the Turkish-German army, the British Army captured Jerusalem, and around 1918, they captured the rest of what would later be called Palestine. The League of Nations divided the territory of the Ottoman Empire into mandated territories. The British received mandate over the region that now makes up Jordan and Palestine. This was the first time in modern history that the region was called Palestine. After the British government decided to hand over the mandate to the United Nations in 1947, Palestine was divided into two states: one for the Jews and one for the Palestinian Arabs. Jerusalem became an international enclave. The partition plan was led by David Ben-Gurion and accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Palestinian Arabs.

With the independence of Israel in 1948, forces from neighboring Arab countries marched into the Palestinian territory. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt, the Gaza District. However, Israel occupied most of the region, including parts designated to the Palestinian state, resulting in around 700,000 Arab refugees. Afterwards the relationship between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab neighbors has been characterized by unremitting, low-key conflict. The simmering conflict erupted several times during the Suez War in 1956, the 1967 War, the Six-Day War of that same year, the War of Attrition of 1969, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the Israel-Lebanon War of 1982. These land grabbing wars were fought between Israel and the Arab nations Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and in the last war, Lebanon.

In 1987, a 17-year-old Palestinian was killed by an Israeli soldier after the teenager threw a Molotov cocktail at an IDF patrol. He was part of the mass riots that broke out after an Israeli salesman was fatally stabbed and four Palestinians were killed, allegedly by Israeli forces as an act of revenge. The 17-year-old’s death triggered the First Palestinian Intifada, engulfing the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. After the Intifada ended in a stalemate in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) agreed to recognize and make peace with Israel. The P.L.O. established a self-governing entity in a small part of Palestine. Israel recognized the P.L.O. and evacuated most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The U.S. recognized the P.L.O. and Jordan gave up its control over the West Bank. This was the start of a Palestinian state.

The years that followed were characterized by treaties and agreements between the countries in the region. In 2001, However, Ariel Sharon’s, a member of the Knesset, visit to Temple Mount, one of the most important religious sites for Palestinian, was wrongly seen as highly provocative and triggered a new uprising against Israeli occupation. Up to 2005 suicide bombings, gunfire, tank fire, air attacks, and targeted killings ended up killing around 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.[ii] In 2005 Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, agreed to a ceasefire.

Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic political organization with a military wing. It is designated as a terrorist organization by others the E.U. and the U.S. After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and a unitary government with Fatah did not work out, Hamas forcefully took control of the Gaza Strip. As a response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip Israel started bombarding and invading the Gaza Strip in 2008 with the objective to deter further rocket fire from Hamas. Israel also set up air, land, and sea blockades, sealing off all borders of Gaza except the one with Egypt. In 2009, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, leaving the Gaza Strip in ruins with over 1,300 Palestinians killed. The blockade was left intact.[iii] In 2012 Israel launched a new offensive against Gaza, attacking “terrorist targets” and weapons aimed at Israeli citizens.[iv] Between 2007 and 2012, 1,128 rockets have been fired towards Israel according to the IDF. After peace talks in 2013 and an announcement of Hamas and Fatah to form a Unity Government in 2014, Israel launces a third assault on the Gaza Strip mid-2014 in response to 150 rockets from Palestinian militants.

In the meantime, Israel has been expanding its settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The Israeli settlements of occupied territory are considered illegal and are condemned by the international community. As retaliation against the new Palestinian Unity Government, which includes Hamas and has been accepted by the U.S., Israel publicly announced it will not stop constructing hundreds of Jewish settlements, calling it “an appropriate Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror government.”[v]

However, the Palestinian government is made up mostly of nonpartisan professionals. The government is an outcome of Hamas’ and Fatah’s efforts to form a Unity Government since April 23, 2014. The government claims to follow a peaceful program and to be committed to the renunciation of violence and the recognition of Israel. Hamas, however, has not accepted those principles.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza from 2007 to the present has kept Gaza almost completely sealed off. Combined with Egypt’s almost incessant blockade of the Rafah border, Israel’s blockade is condemned by the international community. Israel claims the blockade is necessary to stop Palestinian airstrikes from Gaza, but the vast majority of Gazans, are women and children.[vi] Besides, most Hamas leaders have taken refuge in Turkey, where a lot of Hamas activity is now directed. Hamas is said to be the second most well-financed terrorist organization in the world, mainly because Qatar and Turkey are Hamas’ key funders. Israel and the U.S. are incapable of stopping the finance of Hamas because they would also be depriving Gaza from money.

The historic background shows that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian people have a better claim to the land. Even if either party had a stronger claim, it is simply too late to make decisions on the basis of historical facts. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are so rooted in both the region and the conflict that historic claims hardly seem to matter. With Hamas firing rockets from Gaza to Israel, and Israel expanding its settlements in occupied territories and sealing of the whole of Gaza with land, sea, and air blockades, no one seems to have the moral high ground either. This, more than anything else, is the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so volatile and destructive to the region.

ProCon’s website on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been very useful for writing the historical analysis. For a better understanding of the details of the conflict this is a website worth visiting.


[i] Masalha, Nur. “The Palestinian Nakba: Zionism, Transfer and the 1948 Exodus.” Centre for world Dialogue. [http://www.worlddialogue.org/content.php?id=236]

[ii] “Terrorism Against Israel: Comprehensive Listing of Fatalities (September 1993 – Present)”. Jewish Virtual Library. [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/victims.html]

[iii] BBC, “Last Israeli Troops ‘Leave Gaza’,” Jan. 21, 2009. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7841902.stm]

[iv] BBC News, “Q&A: Israel-Gaza Violence,” bbc.co.uk, Nov.19, 2012. [http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-20388298]

[v] Kershner, Isabel, and Jodi Rudoren. “Israel Expands Settlements to Rebuke Palestinians.” The New York Times, June 5, 2014. [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/06/world/middleeast/new-israeli-settlement-plans-draw-swift-condemnation.html]

[vi] Ellison, Keith. “End the Gaza blockade to achieve peace.” The Washington Post. [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/keith-ellison-end-the-gaza-blockade-to-achieve-peace/2014/07/29/e5e707c4-16a1-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html]

Student Spotlight: August Umholtz

December 17, 2014
by

Audrey Bowler, Campus Communications Team Writer 

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Name: August Umholtz
Class year: 2018
Hometown: West Newbury, Massachusetts
Major/minor: Undecided – but I’m thinking about a Pre-Engineering track or Political Science.

What activities are you involved with on campus? I’m participating in the Eisenhower Institute Inside Politics program, and I’ve been going to College Democrat events, but as a First Year, I’m still kind of trying to figure out what to get involved in.

How did you become involved in EI? I first heard about EI when I was applying to Gettysburg. I went to the open house at the EI campus office during one of my visits, and the programs sounded really interesting. I knew I wanted to apply to a program as soon as I decided to come to Gettysburg.

What is your favorite thing about the EI program/job you’re currently involved in? The depth of the knowledge that Kasey Pipes has, and how much he’s able to work with us. I really do think that I’ve already learned a lot that I wouldn’t learn in a traditional classroom environment.

What are you most looking forward to/what was the most exciting part of your trip to DC? I’m really excited for some of the people we’re going to meet with – a few weeks ago, Kasey mentioned that there are already fourteen meetings booked for the weekend, so it’ll be really busy, but I’m looking forward to hearing all of their diverse perspectives.

What is your research project about? Why did you choose that topic? I’m looking at the role of money in politics, particularly the Citizens United decision, and seeing who really benefits and who doesn’t from that case. It’s had such an impact in the way that politics today happens, and how its changed things so dramatically.

Who is your favorite president? FDR, because he created so many programs that still exist today, especially social safety nets.

Where do you keep your Ike pin? In my dorm room, right beside my bed!

If you could take a selfie with one political figure, who would it be? It would have to be President Obama. I’ve seen him taking selfies before, so he’s obviously pretty good at it.

Student Spotlight: Amy Whitehouse

December 15, 2014
by

Audrey Bowler, Campus Communications Team Writer

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Name: Amy Whitehouse
Class year: 2015
Hometown: Niantic, Connecticut
Major/minor: Environmental Studies/Sociology double major

What activities are you involved with on campus? Right now, I’m participating in the Eisenhower Institute Environmental Leadership program, I’m leading an immersion trip to Alabama for the Center for Public Service over Winter Break, and I’ve been on the executive board for Autism Speaks for the past few years. I’ve also been involved with the Garthwait Leadership Center and and the EI Inside Politics program.

How did you become involved in EI? During my sophomore year, I participated in the Garthwait Leadership Center’s Emerging Leaders Retreat, which was working with the Eisenhower Institute. I became more aware of the programs, and I applied for Inside Politics during the fall semester of my junior year. It was an awesome experience, and I really wanted to apply for another program. It was kind of a snowball effect!

What is your favorite thing about the EI program/job you’re currently involved in? I really like that we’re designing our own research projects – we’re going into these communities in Charlottesville that I would normally never get the opportunity to visit. It’s allowed me to tie in my sociology major as well – I’ve been able to relate some of my research topics, like deviance within communities, to the Environmental Leadership program.

What are you most looking forward to/what was the most exciting part of your trip to Charlottesville? I’m not really sure what to expect – I know that Howard’s going to take us hiking, which should be really fun. I’m just excited to see how the communities we visit receive us, and how open they are to our questions. We definitely have a lot of questions, and we’re ready to think critically about how these communities work.

How has EI impacted your time at Gettysburg? The Eisenhower Institute has definitely made me more aware of the power of networking at Gettysburg. So many people that we’ve been put in contact with through EI are so willing and excited to help Gettysburg students. It’s really made me realize the potential that comes with networking. I think public policy can sometimes be written of as being boring, but I’ve made so many connections through it and have been able to relate all of my interests to some aspect of policy.

Who is your favorite president? Abraham Lincoln.

Do you (still) like Ike? Yeah, of course!

Where do you keep your Ike pin? On my backpack.

If you could take a selfie with one political figure, who would it be? Leonardo DiCaprio – who I’m considering a political figure given his role in United Nations as a Messenger on Peace and Climate Change. I think he would take a great selfie!

Student Spotlights

December 15, 2014
by

Kathryn Thompson

Ike’s Anvil is excited to showcase some of the great students we have on campus!

Pleas send any nominations to Kathryn Thompson at thomka06@gettysburg.edu

Immigration: What’s happening now and what is yet to come?

December 3, 2014
by

Victoria Perez-Zetune

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?” President Obama challenges Congress and our nation on Thursday November 20, 2014 when he made his announcement about his plan for immigration[1].

June 2012, President Barack Obama originally passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This allowed individuals that arrived under the age of 31 before 2007 that met other background checks and requirements to obtain a worker’s permit, license, and relief from deportation[2]. This program caused great controversy, and Congress felt the president had overstepped his power, but Congress continued to fail to act. In 2013, the U.S. Senate successfully passed a bipartisan immigration bill. Unfortunately, once the bill arrived to the House of Representatives, the bill died without a vote. President Obama once again urges and reminds Congress that a passed bill would replace his new executive order[3].

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gave relief to approximately 1.2 million undocumented youths, but the new announcement is predicted to cover 5 million individuals[4]. President Obama’s announced defined three main components that will be addressed. The first is an increase in border patrol. Attempting to further diminish illegal entrances into the United States, additional resources will be allocated to the border and to ensure rapid return to those caught. The second component is facilitating opportunities for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to remain the in country. Allowing high-skill workers to remain in the United States would fill vacant positions in our existing workforce with people that have the training as well as create jobs with new business created by these entrepreneurs. Finally, the President plans to “deal responsibly” with the undocumented immigrants in the United States. This means the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the inclusion of parents of citizen children for undocumented individuals who arrived before 20101.

Controversy over President Obama’s new announcement once again has occurred. The country is split over the decision. Only 45% of Americans find it acceptable that the president acted alone on immigration according to a Quinnipiac survey, but 68% of people disagree that the government should shutdown again over immigration4. It is up to Congress what happens next. Defunding the program is not an option despite the rumors claiming it is a possibility. Fees by users fund the program and Citizenship and Immigration Services would continue operating regardless of a government shutdown[5]. Congress is due to pass a new spending bill by December 12 or the government will stop all operations again. Even though this will not impact the new immigration plans, a government shutdown is a worry among Americans. Immigration, also, has not been resolved; this just a temporary solution. President Obama’s actions have not led to citizenship for anyone and issues surrounding unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking refuge persist. Furthermore, President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration could vanish as his presidency ends. Congress must unite to permanently address immigration and more urgently the upcoming budget.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcript-obamas-immigration-speech/2014/11/20/14ba8042-7117-11e4-893f-86bd390a3340_story.html

[2] http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30042847

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/11/25/americans-split-on-obamas-immigration-action-but-firmly-oppose-a-shutdown/

[5] http://thehill.com/policy/finance/224837-appropriations-panel-defunding-immigration-order-impossible

Sports Betting: State or Federal Issue?

November 24, 2014
by

Erica Paul

Constitutionally, legislation surrounding gambling is supposed to be left to the determination of the states. As a condition of the Federal Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, the States should be allowed to have “primary responsibility for determining what forms of gambling can legally take place in their borders.”[1] The role of the Federal government in the issue is to protect states from other states interfering with their gambling policies, and to represent the national interests as a whole. Other important legislation was the passing of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992, which essentially prohibited states from having sports betting in their state. [2]

Sports’ betting is the most recent topic in gambling. The divide between the authority of the states and the federal government is clearly shown as the NBA puts pressure on Congress to make states legalize some form of sports betting. NBA commissioner Adam Silver advocates a “national law” that “allows states to authorize betting on professional sports.” [1] Nevertheless, Silver recognizes that it would be necessary to have severe regulations and technological precautions. Examples of such precautions are “minimum-age verification measures, geo-blocking technology,” as well as “mechanisms to exclude people with gambling problems.” [2]

The current state of the legislation of sports betting is that four states, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Delaware, allow it. A referendum was voted on by the people of New Jersey to approve it, but there have been some complications in the court. Governor Chris Christie allowed for sports betting at “casinos and racetracks,” but organizations such as the NCAA and other sports leagues are fighting it. [2]

Personally, I do not think that sports betting is a great idea. Despite that, since some states have already passed laws allowing it, it should be nationally allowed. The federal government should “create a federal framework that allows” all states individuals the ability to bet on sports. [3] Individual states will lose money, as their residents will go other places to bet on sports if they really desire too. In addition, illegal sports betting is a thriving underground business with no regulation at all, accumulating a possible $400 billion each year. [3] Also, Adam Silver’s description of how to regulate sports betting seems too intricate to be feasible. He describes finding a way to prevent gambling addicts from betting on sports, but it would be unconstitutional to prevent someone from doing something they want too. Minimum-age verification measures would be extremely difficult to implement. Ultimately, although I agree that sports betting should be legal, Adam Silver’s precautions seemed to be too involved to use realistically. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see where gambling, as an economic option for many states, will head. Many states have legal casinos, a whole lottery system, and few even have options for legal online betting. Going forward, it is hard to say whether or gambling of this nature will become universal and regular in our country. We will have to wait and see how the federal government responds.

[1] http://www.paulickreport.com/news/the-biz/nba-commish-adam-silver-sports-betting-needs-federal-solution/

[2] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/3001

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/opinion/nba-commissioner-adam-silver-legalize-sports-betting.html?_r=0

Lessons from Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012)

November 19, 2014
by

Robert Shaw Bridges  

When we take up the mantle of cultural critique, what do we expect is the result? This is a question that philosophers and historians have long debated, and will likely remain unsettled until history provides us with an answer, sometimes one soaked in blood. From 1965-66, Indonesia erupted when a failed coup d’état gave way to the violent purge of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) by paramilitary youth organizations, among them the Pancasila Youth. After the establishment of the New Order in Indonesia under the military dictatorship of Suharto, participants in these mass killings were celebrated as heroes, and the murders of close to 500,000 Indonesians became officially sanctioned acts in wartime. With the resignation of Suharto in 1998 and his death ten years later, the people have become more receptive to discourse over the narrative. In 2012, evidence for this openness received international acclaim with the release of the documentary film The Act of Killing, by Joshua Oppenheimer. The film received the 2014 BAFTA award for best documentary among other awards and nominations, and through underground channels has reached millions of Indonesians. The story is shocking: a satirical representation of the spectacle of death, in which the killers become the narrators. The film’s protagonist is the former movie theater gangster Anwar Congo who claims to have personally killed 1,000 people in the purge. Throughout the film, the Anwar and his compatriots from the ol’ days are challenged to reenact their memories of carnage to the tune of their favorite Hollywood blockbusters.

Whether dressed as film noire gangsters or wearing a cowboy hat and pretending to be John Wayne, these seemingly unrepentant killers are asked to convey their crimes against humanity to a worldwide audience. The shocking message these erstwhile movie-stars deliver until the end is eerily reminiscent of that chilling maxim that motivated the Third Reich, “Might Makes Right.” The viewer is made aware throughout the film of the clear continuities between these fascist psychologies separated by time and space, familiar to all readers of Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies. Several leaders of the paramilitary group who decades ago were burning homes and dumping bodies in the rivers of the Indonesian tropics, were filmed sharing a laugh or a snide comment about a woman’s dress or jovially talking about the ecstasy that comes with raping their victims. The film also makes clear that the dominant historical narrative in Indonesia condones this social praise of past acts of violence. Politicians and leaders of the paramilitary youth told them they were not just gangsters, but that they were “free men” who did a great service to their country. The fact that they were able to commit murder with impunity, as one former paramilitary executioner exclaimed, was proof that their crimes were sanctioned, and by extension justified. If the State did not provide them with enough damning propaganda to vindicate their consciences, Anwar and his friends found ways to persuade themselves of their own innocence. “They have to accept it,” said Safit Pardede, one of Anwar’s accomplices, “Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better, but it works: I’ve never felt guilty, never been depressed, never had nightmares.”

Anwar, however, was not so lucky. Toward the end of the film, while watching the footage of his own reenacted scenes of carnage, Anwar shows signs of disturbance, of genuine disgust at his and his friends’ glorification of violence. At one point, he even becomes physically ill at the sight where he tied his victims to a pole and strangled his them with a metal wire. When asked by Oppenheimer how he felt after playing the victim of one of his crimes, he responds, “But I can feel it, Josh. Really, I feel it. Or have I sinned.” As a viewer, these moments give us hope that even if these men were ruthless killers, somehow they can regain their humanity. If they only realize what they did was wrong, we believe they are redeemable. This may be true. But is it the only lesson we should take away from Oppenheimer’s film? Perhaps these moments undermine the very message that should resonate with us. Ordinary people, who displayed no outward signs of psychosis, were capable of committing heinous crimes, and experienced no dissonance between their violent acts and their value system. They deluded themselves and were deluded by their social and political institutions into believing what they did was right, and today, they consciously suppress their suffering because their society approved their behavior, or perhaps they believe society forgave them for it. Regardless, Pardede reminds the viewer, the carnage has ended and the history is written and the victims just “have to accept it.”

Should we seek to redeem the killers? Or should we understand our very human capacity for and conditioning to violence? A similar phenomenon occurs in what many students on college campuses are now calling “rape cultures.” Fascism is not just an ideology; it is a state of mind, and an aesthetic that saturates culture at multiple levels. Certainly as political actors, the dominant narratives do not always sway us, nor do we accept the critique that we are all susceptible to the kind of violent ideologies that fed the Nazi regime in the thirties, or the state-sanctioned genocide in Rwanda. Through films like The Act of Killing, we seek to reconcile the humanity of the killers like Anwar with our own concept of humanity. We try to vindicate the part of them that we recognize and love in ourselves, rather than condemn the cultural mores that led to their downfall. Yet it may have been necessary to show the audience Anwar’s humanity to truly equate us with the madness of the social and cultural vectors that ultimately gave him the license to kill. What audiences should recognize is these men did not commit murder in a vacuum. There were contributive vectors, ways of fetishizing violence that were sanctioned, violence that many students in the United States believe is still sanctioned in our society, whether it is celebrated in public or reveled in behind a closed bedroom door.