Arab-Israeli conflict incites heated debate at Laurier

There are few subjects in the international sphere that incite as much emotion or spark such heated debate as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Khaled Abu Toameh, a journalist who covers the conflict from the front lines, shared his perspective on the dispute and his opinion on possible solutions this past Friday when he spoke at the Laurier campus.

The event was one of a series held at 23 university campuses across Canada as part of the Size Doesn’t Matter campaign, which was launched to counter Israel Apartheid Week. Toameh’s talk in particular was sponsored by Israel on Campus.

Toameh, who lives in Jerusalem, is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and has produced several documentaries on Palestinian affairs. Calling himself an “Israeli-Arab-Muslim-Palestinian,” he emphasized his personal connection to both Israel and Palestine to provide context to his subsequent observations on the conflict.

During his speech, Toameh highlighted the historical reasons behind the conflict and why Palestinians have lost faith in the peace process. He emphasized that while he does not have a ready-made solution, his vision of the ideal is a climate where “if there is a Jew who would like to live in Palestine he is welcome, and if there is an Arab who would like to live in Israel he is also welcome. In an ideal situation, peace means that people can live wherever they want.”

He acknowledged this is far from the reality of the situation. He spoke of two communities who live in fear of each other, disengaged with one another and content to live as two solitudes. When pressed by an audience member about how to move forward, Toameh’s frank response was that he did not have the answer, but that it would require leadership that strives for peace, justice and equality in the region.

The talk was attended by numerous people who supported either side of the conflict. Predictably, tensions rose during the question and answer period. Both sides raised contentious issues that led to heated debates which only served to emphasize the mistrust and tension Toameh had discussed earlier, yet offered a chance for dialogue. When the subject of Israeli Apartheid was brought up, he argued against the term apartheid, but instead chose to use the term discrimination.

When it was suggested by an observer that Toameh was at Laurier to represent one side, he replied that he did not represent anyone but himself.

“If you Google search me, you will see that I have been campaigning for good government and democracy in Palestine more than the people sitting here on campus….Let’s calm down and try to find things in common.”

In the end, Toameh’s message was one of the need for enduring conflict management and positive change. He was adamant that mistakes have been made on either side and that conflict resolution is all but impossible without the restoration of trust and an element of cooperation.

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