On October 2, the Program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies hosted Moustafa Bayoumi for a lecture and question and answer session called “After Gaza: What Are the Prospects for Peace and Justice in Israel & Palestine?”
Bayoumi, Associate Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, received his Ph.D. in English literature from Columbia University and is author of How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, which won an American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award for Non-Fiction.
Bayoumi opened the lecture with a narrative, describing Gaza as the largest open-air prison of the world, where the most highly unequal structural relationship exists in the form of a blockade.
“The people of Gaza have been jettisoned out of contact from the outside world,” Bayoumi said. “However, almost all the attention on the blockade focused on what Israel allowed in Gaza, when in fact, what is allowed out is more important. To understand that the blockade prevents Gaza from exporting their goods and connecting the Palestinians to the rest of the world is to understand that the siege diminishes human capacity of Gaza, and ultimately the humanity of Palestinians who live there.”
Bayoumi firmly believes that an armed attempt at solution solves nothing. While he stressed that a peaceful solution for the conflict is needed, he questioned the effectiveness of current peace talks.
“We are keeping negotiations going without making any progress. They are not established to solve problems and leading to
nowhere,” Bayoumi said.
However, he qualified that real dialogue could be effective and urged hearing Palestinians speaking in their own voices.
Luna Zagorac, a junior who was present at the lecture, observed that Palestinians were infrequently featured in American media and asked during the question and answer session whether the democratic process is necessary for them to speak in their own voices.
“Actually, it is not hard to find media to speak for them; there is just not enough interest,” Bayoumi said. “A rebirth of their own political culture is needed. And that requires different conversations from the ground. It is the ripe time.”
He remarked that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign adds pressure on Israel to comply with the international law and Palestinian rights. More importantly, it was initiated by Palestinian civil society and is a non-violent method of resistance.
“However, it is only a strategy, not the principle,” Bayoumi said. “And such boycott should only be directed to policies and institutions that implement the policies, instead of individuals.”
Bayoumi also talked about the importance of redressing injustices and grievances for consequences of the 1948 War, which resulted in the dispossession of the majority of the Palestinian population from their homeland. He feels that in the long term, there will not be any pragmatic resolution without addressing Palestinian claims on the 1948 War and that for the 8 million Israelis born long after 1948, rights need to be recognized.
“I admire much of Bayoumi’s work and was interested in the lecture. However, I’m concerned that arguments concerning the resolution of a conflict that are premised upon unreflexive conceptions of justice ‘may’ amount to a species of injustice that will only guarantee the same conflict’s perpetuation,” George R. and Myra T. Cooley Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies and Professor of Geography Daniel Monk said.
Regarding the two-state solution, which calls for two states for two peoples, Bayoumi feels skeptical.
“The fates of two countries are intimately connected. They are living on the same land and will continue to, but now separation has prevented people from reaching the outside world, and within Palestine, fragmentation has led people [to] talk about Gaza as if it is a separate country. Separation is a misguided recipe for
future disaster,” Bayoumi said.
Sophomore Ieva Steponaviciute raised a question about the role the United Nations or other international organizations could play in the conflict.
“The U.N. is as strong as the international consensus can make it. It has tremendous potential but when it comes to politics, as all major decisions are handed to the Security Council, which have vetoes for the powerful countries, then it is not really the expression of global will. And that’s where the stalemate comes from,” Bayoumi said.
First-year Abe Benghiat was at the lecture and spoke about its impact on her afterwards.
“I felt that Professor Bayoumi talked more about how the Israelis were the aggressors and focused less on how we can obtain peace. I am not convinced of his answer and am overall surprised about how pro-Palestinian he is,” Benghait said.