Question: Do you support terrorists?
Answer: I don’t know.
The above dialogue characterizes the recent presentation given by Lauren DeSalvo, the 26- year-old activist from the International Solidarity Movement who was brought to campus by the Islamic Society, OASIS (Organization of Arab Students Instituting Solidarity), and Amnesty International. Her presentation was a first person account of her three-month mission to promote the well-being of the Palestinians living in the West Bank. On a daily basis, DeSalvo would travel to Israeli checkpoints in Gaza and negotiate with the soldiers there for the passage of different Palestinian civilians. She participated in symbolic events, such as passing roses through different portions of the security fence that Israel is erecting around its territories. She also tore down roadblocks that impeded the movement of Palestinians to their homes and workplaces.
These groups had noble intentions when bringing DeSalvo to campus. The President of OASIS stated that: “We were motivated to bring an International Solidarity Movement speaker to UM because we believe that educating the students and faculty about the current situation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is essential to understanding the conflict.” But the description of OASIS is “to promote the Arab people, their history, culture, problems and aspirations.” And at second glance, the presentation by DeSalvo did not advance the understanding of the conflict or try and promote a peaceful resolution; instead, it gave a skewed impression of the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Throughout the hour and a half lecture, the word “peace” was not mentioned once. The presentation consistently mentioned tearing down the “apartheid wall,” but DeSalvo did not even attempt to refute the reason for its existence – to control terrorism that came from the population it is being built around. Indeed, DeSalvo placed emphasis on the repressed Palestinian population, but when questioned at the end of her lecture about how terrorists develop within Palestinian society, she responded with a “I cannot comment on that” beyond the ISM’s official policy of recognizing the Palestinian’s right to armed struggle and supporting that policy. DeSalvo could have made a case for herself had she said, “I am staunchly against the use of terrorism to achieve peace.” Instead, she invoked a double standard by rebuking the military tactics used by Israel but in essence supporting the violent tactics used by Palestinian suicide bombers. In doing so, she lost her credibility and lost part of her case for Palestinian apartheid.
When questioned about how the Palestinian Authority and Arafat were responsible for the failure of peace in the Middle East, DeSalvo said that her presentation was about the inhumanity of roadblocks and the fence, and that she felt it was less important for her presentation to highlight those issues.
With his documented support of terrorist organizations and his inability to compromise with the Israelis through several rounds of peace negociations, Yassar Arafat has been recognized as one of the greatest impediments to peace in the Middle East. How can a person so dedicated to achieving peace abstain from commenting on one of the primary obstacles to it?
Voicing an opinion about the inhumanity of suicide bombings and the sadistic nature of Arafat would not have clouded her message of Palestinian suffering at all. While important to recognize the forces in Palestinian society that have not been conducive to peace, it is also important to recognize the many civilians that she spoke of who genuinely oppose violence and are looking to end the conflict quickly and civilly. Israeli military rule and the neo-Berlinesque wall do not discriminate between those who are dedicated to a peaceful resolution to the problem or those who are dedicated to terrorizing innocent Israeli civilians. Military rule is not fair to those who support peace, or fair to those Palestinian civilians who are just trying to get on with their lives.
Unfortunately, military rule is the present reality. Israel cannot risk the lives of its population by toning down its presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By completely disregarding the politics and the reasoning behind the vivid explanations of Palestinian suffering, De Salvo did little for the case of why these people should be liberated. Which is unfortunate, because those Palestinians who are interested in a nonviolent peace resolution – the people that she worked with – are indeed deserving of liberty.