Global Currents article

The Israel/Palestine Escalation: The Current Chapter of a Long History

Image of interlocking chains in a fence in the city of Hebron. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The following statement, originally published on Tikkun, has been signed by Professor Atalia Omer, Co-Director of the Contending Modernities Research Initiative. Below the statement is a summary report of a conversation that took place on Thursday, October 12 at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies among experts in peace studies and international law.

Solidarity with Israel/Palestine

This statement is written and signed by Palestinians, Jews, and others who are committed to holding complex truths and striving to overcome polarization. We feel the pain of our people, identify with their pain, and need to work together to uplift our shared humanity.

The unfolding horror in Israel and Gaza is an escalation of decades of state-sanctioned violence by Israel against Palestinians. We condemn the horrific actions of Hamas against Israeli civilians. We likewise condemn Israel’s unbridled bombing and cutting off access to all basic needs, including food, water, electricity, and medical care. Attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians are repugnant.

Israeli violence against Palestinians has been intentionally hidden, slow, and steady. Contrary to what the media is reporting, this attack was not unprovoked. The Israeli and American governments have worked together to suppress and deny the inhumane acts against Palestinians that have led to this moment. There are Palestinians and Jews who have been raising red flags and warning about this inevitable outcome for decades, only to be dismissed and ignored.

The world’s failure to challenge Israel’s ongoing occupation, apartheid, and unbridled violence by settlers and soldiers in the West Bank provides the context for what is happening now. The recent Israeli government’s escalation of violence, encroachment of Al Aqsa Mosque, and its 16-year siege of Gaza has led to the current explosion.

We repeat: the brutality of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians is unjustified.

As we watch the violent attacks and rallying of xenophobia on both sides, we are brokenhearted. Although it feels like a time to stand with “our people,” we know this is a time to come together. This is a time of great suffering for all; a time of painful emotions. It is only by recognizing our shared fears and our shared tears that we will find our way through this nightmare. It is a struggle we need to undertake jointly.

When we fall back into our separate and distinct identities we risk becoming part of the problem, not the solution. Both peoples suffer from ongoing trauma. We are all on high alert. The fear is palpable. And it is easy for us to objectify the ‘other.’ 

We seek a third path that neither perpetuates a xenophobic response nor sustains an unjust status quo. This moment calls us to slow down, sit with the pain and complexity, and grapple with our discomfort. It is a moment for digging deep, seeing across differences, and remembering our deep yearning for peace and justice. It is only through compassion and empathy that we will find a different way. 

 We recognize and uplift the humanity of all peoples in Israel/Palestine. 

 We call for an immediate ceasefire from Hamas and Israel.

 We demand that basic needs be provided to Gazans. 

 We demand that the United States provide only humanitarian support to Israel and Gaza. 

 We support the creation of a movement that recognizes and affirms the humanity, dignity, and desire of both peoples to live in peace through reconciliation and justice.


On Thursday October 12, The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies held a teach-in with faculty, staff, and students from around the University of Notre Dame community. The panel was moderated by CM Co-Director Ebrahim Moosa and panelists included Notre Dame doctoral candidate in Theology Daniel Bannoura, CM Co-Director Atalia Omer, and Notre Dame Professor of Law and Concurrent Professor of International Peace Studies Mary Ellen O’Connell. Given the mainstream English news media amnesia in covering this event, the aim of this conversation was to provide a broader context for the violence.

Following introductions of the speakers and a reading of the University of Notre Dame’s Land Acknowledgement, Kroc Institute Executive Director Erin Corcoran handed off the discussion to the panel. 

Professor Ebrahim Moosa began by laying out the complex background of Israel/Palestine in light of the current events. He drew particular attention to the different ways that Israelis and Palestinians perceive the political context in which they find themselves. For Palestinians, he noted, the state of Israel is a settler colonial power. For Israelis, on the other hand, Israel is a home that represents an emancipation from centuries of experiencing oppression and violence in Europe and elsewhere.

In her opening remarks, Professor Atalia Omer outlined her personal connections to and scholarly focus on Israel and Palestine, as well as her own Israeli citizenship, roots, and Jewish identity. She urged recognizing the humanity of Palestinians and Israelis and that a failure to mourn victims of horrendous violence, whoever they are, is a failure of one’s humanity. She noted that she herself was hurting because of the loss of friends in Saturday’s atrocious attacks carried out by the Hamas movement. She argued that it is important to contextualize the violence so as to challenge binary and ahistorical narratives and the discourse of genocidal revenge and collective punishment that have been perpetuated in its wake. For her, this means contextualizing 100 years or more of the displacement of Palestinians and the international community’s complicit role in the Israeli occupation. The Gaza Strip, an integral part of the Palestinian landscape, has been fenced in since the Oslo “peace process” in the mid-1990s. During that time, Gaza was fragmented from the rest of Palestine. But Gaza has remained, despite this policy of fragmentation, at the heart of the struggle for Palestinian liberation. The war for Israeli independence in 1948 was the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” for Palestinians who have continued to experience for 75 years a variety of events and mechanisms of control, displacement, restrictions of movement, oppression, and destruction. This includes demolition, dispossession of land, and the denial of the history and experiences of Palestinians often through the weaponization of antisemitism. She noted that the leading human rights groups, including the Israeli B’tselem, have argued that Israel is perpetuating apartheid against the Palestinians through a principle of sovereignty B’tselem terms “Jewish supremacy.” 

She described how she was horrified and in pain on Saturday, but, tragically, not surprised, noting that structural violence has been perpetuated in Palestinian territories for many years. She argued that the story of revenge is not one we should embrace. Redressing the underlying root causes of the escalating violence, Omer underscored, cannot be accomplished by the military through the commitment of war crimes and the violating humanitarian laws, but ought to be attained through diplomatic and political tools. Unfortunately, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that the US is going to have Israel’s back in its collective punishment of Gazans. But there is a need to recognize everyone’s humanity and pain. We need to understand the history of Palestinian displacement since 1948 (and before, going back to the momentous Balfour Declaration of 1917) and the continued discrepancy in power, which is exemplified in how Israel was able to cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza. The majority of the residents of Gaza are refugees, uprooted during the Nakba. 

Daniel Bannoura began by sharing his story as a Palestinian who grew up near Bethlehem. The West Bank, he noted, is also a prison in which members of his family still live. So far 1,600 Palestinians, including 450 children and babies, have been killed in Gaza by the Israeli occupation forces [see updated numbers in the editorial introduction]. Half of those who have died are women and children. White phosphorus has been dumped on Gazans in contravention to international law. He noted that around 300 Christian families in Gaza lost their homes and are now without food and sheltering at a church. Rather than a prison, he sees Gaza as a concentration camp because a prison implies that those in it are guilty of committing a crime. The only crime of the people of the Gaza Strip is that they were born there.

He noted that so many are in attendance at the panel today, rather than at past panels, because we don’t think Palestinians are fully human. The difference this time is the number of Israelis who have died. He argued that it was necessary to condemn Hamas, but that it was also necessary to condemn the Israeli government’s actions, the latter of which US citizens are also complicit in because their tax dollars go to support Israel. In our media, he laid out, White supremacy leads us to paint Israelis as White and Palestinians as non-White. He argued that apartheid language is only the beginning of the conversation, and we need to focus on the ramifications and impact of settler colonialism, legal and military procedures, US foreign policy, and the role of religion in whitewashing injustice in the region.

Daniel also noted that we need to recognize the humanity of both peoples. White supremacist ideologies frame Israel and Palestine as well in terms of who is viewed as having humanity and who is not. All of us in the room, he noted, are inheritors of a violence of domination and colonization, whether historical colonization, antisemitism, or the denial of the Palestinian people of the right to exist. Daniel further observed the role of Western Christianity in maintaining the system of oppression against the Palestinians through theological formulations, whether through Protestant zionism or Catholic zionism, that justify the colonization of Palestine and continue to exclude and erase Palestinians from their analysis. He argued that we need to see that the Shoah is tied to the Nakba, that the suffering of innocents in the past is tied to the suffering of innocents now. He ended by noting that he hoped a just peace and human rights would inform how we move ahead from this tragedy.

Professor Ebrahim Moosa recognized that many in the audience were in pain after an interruption from an audience member. He noted that he was South African and that every South African cleric, civil rights activist, and politician who visited Israel/Palestine said that the oppression faced by the Palestinians was far worse than what Blacks faced in South Africa. He suggested that a carnage was about to happen in Gaza, and that because of this he wrote a letter to President Bident and to his Senator, and encouraged others to do the same.

Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell argued that this is a moment to speak with unity. We need to give heart to the amount of suffering. She spoke of a way forward if we use what past generations offered us to unite us and that is our common international law—a concept we around the world built together. She briefly addressed the three categories of law relevant to the crisis: (1) law on resort to armed force; (2) law on the conduct of armed conflict; and (3) human rights law. On initial resort to force she argued that any right of self-defense or to resist occupation that may exist for the Palestinian people (and that is a complicated issue), there is emphatically no justification for the violent measures undertaken by Hamas. Hamas had no hope of removing Israeli authorities from occupied territory by killing civilians. Hamas used violence with only one aim—to intimidate for political ends—that is the definition of terrorism. She explained that even a party with a right to resort to force is restricted from exercising that right where there is no reasonable chance of success.

Concerning law and conduct during armed conflict, she emphasized there is no right to intentionally target civilians or ever take hostages. She said that it is unclear to what extent Israel can lawfully respond to terrorism with war. It is clear that Israel has a duty to withdraw from territory it occupies. Israel’s use of force also violates the principle of necessity. Its interventions in the past have never accomplished a lawful military objective. Further, any resort to armed force must comply with four fundamental principles: distinction, necessity, proportionality, and humanity. Israel is violating all of these right now. Cutting off food, medicine, and water to a civilian population is never acceptable. Hamas must also release hostages and cease violent attacks on Israel. The US has a responsibility to restore international law and reverse its own actions in violation of the prohibition on the use of force. She advocated for the US to lead in international law to aid those suffering in all war-torn nations—Myanmar, in Ethiopia, and in Sudan.

Following these initial remarks, a Q&A period was opened up. One audience member suggested that it would be beneficial for the US and UN to invade Gaza and free the Palestinians from Hamas. Another attendee reflected on the fact that the Israeli occupation had prevented them from returning to their home. Still another wondered what role the UN security council might play in the dispute and what was being said by the Palestinian leadership about the conflict.

Kibbutz Kfar Aza with Gaza seen on the horizon. Image credit: Max Nathans. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED.

Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell began the panelists’ responses by mentioning, as the other panelists had before their remarks, her own faith, Roman Catholicism, and her Irish heritage. She is the granddaughter of people who fled oppression and genocidal famine. She has devoted her life in line with the great teaching of the Catholic Church to Pacem in Terris. International law offers the most effective tool to work for the goal that she knows of. In response to the question about the UN invading and freeing people from Hamas she argued based on extensive experience and data that the attempt to use military force to create good governance will fail. Classical peacekeeping, which succeeded consistently in ending violence when all parties consented, had been abandoned with the end of the Cold War and the rise of a hegemonic US devoted to realist-militarist policy. The belief in military solutions bred by realism is at the root of conflict today. Yet, military force is no solution to terrorism and other social challenges.

In response to the question about the United Nations Security Council, she dismissed the Council’s relevance today, given the Permanent Members’ disregard for the UN Charter and international law generally. A dynamic UN Secretary General with real leadership potential can do more for peace now as can an immediate shift of US policy from defying international law to compliance—end targeted killing with drones, renounce unlawful military force like the invasion of Iraq 2003, and cease military support of Israel.

Daniel Bannoura noted that the Palestinian president committed himself to nonviolence and condemned the killing of innocent civilians. He also reiterated that we need Israelis to see that their security is connected to Palestinian security. Israel has built a fortress on the lands and bones of Palestinians, he argued. The suffering is connected when we see that a Palestinian cannot return home. Palestinians want a free Palestine from apartheid and oppression so that Hamas and other actors of violence lose their credibility. Hamas has only been around 30 years. Palestinians have been suffering since 1948. 

Professor Atalia Omer argued that it is critical to think of the question of Israeli and Palestinian suffering together. Because of the binary framing, she noted, it is difficult both to mourn the people she lost [in Israel] and recognize the crimes committed against them while also recognizing the Palestinian story and the ongoing violent reality Palestinains have endured, albeit differently in 1948 territories or “Israel proper,” the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip (and various diasporas and refugee camps in the region). This issue did not begin on Saturday, October 7 and it is important to bring the root cause to the foreground in order to de-escalate and redress politically the aspirations of Palestinians for freedom and historical justice. She suggested that the dehumanizing rhetoric from the US President and Secretary of State that claimed that Hamas’ sole purpose for existing is “to kill Jews” collapses the distinction between Israelis and Jews in an unhelpful way. It also abstracts and decontextualizes the realities of prolonged structural violence in Palestine/Israel and the ideology that sustains them as noted in the B’tselem report.

She ended her response by noting that she grew up in Israel, and the first time she heard about the Nakba was when she came to the US. What is at the center of this is the denial of history, the denial of narrative, and the denial of humanity. 

In another round of questions, one audience member asked how they could support Palestinians without being accused of being antisemitic? They also asked how to communicate to the West that Hamas does not represent everyone? Another audience member spoke about their home and neighborhood in Gaza being destroyed, noting that their family is camped in a school and that there was no way out of the city. She argued that Israel is committing war crimes and no one is covering it. Hamas is the only form of resistance that Gazans have, she said. Another audience member asked what duty toward Palestine Jordanians, Iraqis, Lebanese and others have and how the Israelis might be brought to the negotiating table? They also pointedly asked: What do you do when non-violence does not work? 

Daniel Bannoura responded to the question about antisemitism and support for Palestinians. The Palestinian struggle for freedom, he argued, is tied to the struggle against antisemitism. It is the same demand that the struggles are after. Because you are fighting against antisemitism you are fighting for Palestinians. Generally, Western discourse on the situation in Palestine and Israel consistently formulates the Palestinian cause as contingent or insignificant. He suggested that Palestinians are paying for the sins of Christians in Europe and their historic antisemitism. We have to understand that this is a messy conflict, and we have to move away from the colonial framing of it.

A two-state solution will not work, he said. The community’s history and culture are too intertwined. We need to think in new and creative ways that insure the security and freedom of both peoples.

Professor Atalia Omer noted that the two-state framework is based on homogeneous ethnoreligious conceptions of identity that inspire White nationalism in the US and that alternatives are needed. She stressed the need for a political imagination that goes beyond the current framework.

Professor Ebrahim Moosa concluded the panel by suggesting that each side in the conflict is now framing this moment as “a state of exception” from the normal rule of law and that this is an extremely dangerous moment. Indeed, the US claimed a state of exception after 9/11 and dire consequences followed, including years of violence and death in Afghanistan and in other places around the world where the “war on terror” was enacted.

Contending Modernities

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