This is the first in a series of four columns by the author dealing with divestment and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There’s a brilliant montage in “V for Vendetta” when Inspector Finch, the troubled head of Scotland Yard, finally realizes that the government he serves is going to crumble. A premonition of the future, interspersed with recollections of the past, flashes before his eyes — fragmented visions almost too fleeting to capture on film, alternating flickers of memory and augury. “I suddenly had a feeling,” says Finch, “that it was all connected. And I could see everything that had happened…and everything that was going to happen. And it was all connected.”
I’ve started to feel much the same premonitory dread about the divestment question, which Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER), formerly Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI), has revived again this year. It’s not hard to see what’s going to happen — in part because it has happened so many times already.
SPER President Omar Shakir will deliver an eloquent presentation or two, which the same people attend every year. The Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA) will once again parade around White Plaza waving Israeli flags and serving falafel. Partisans on both sides of the issue will trade barbs in a series of op-eds in the Daily, while a highly charged emotional debate in the ASSU Senate may or may not result in a resolution being passed that may or may not have any effect on whether the University actually divests from any companies at all. At the end of the day, everyone will go home having accomplished little of concrete importance but feeling much angrier than usual.
I would hope that we entrepreneurial Stanford students could come up with something better and more innovative than that. If there is no hope for reconciliation here, in sunny Palo Alto, far from the poverty-stricken streets of Gaza and the desiccated craters of the West Bank, among a student body famous for its optimism and good nature, then it is hard to see how there can be reconciliation anywhere.
But how? Where would we start? How would we go about shifting a paradigm deeply entrenched and seemingly immovable — a diplomatic roadblock on which political careers have foundered and the best-laid plans of nations gone awry?
First, reconciliation cannot begin until each side begins to feel the other’s pain, and until both sides agree that they find certain things unequivocally unacceptable, whoever the victim and whoever the perpetrator.
Reconciliation cannot happen unless Palestinian supporters stop responding to Auschwitz-Birkenau with a coldly automatic “yes, but…” Peace cannot happen until Palestinian supporters imagine themselves trapped in the slowly falling body of Leon Klinghoffer, the disabled Jewish-American shot at point-blank range and thrown overboard from the “Achille Lauro” by Palestinian terrorists in 1985. Peace cannot happen until Palestinian supporters imagine the nails and shrapnel softly ripping through faces and flesh at the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001, remember the babies suicide-bombed to pieces on the Haifa beach in 2003 and truly think about how it would feel to be the child or spouse of one of the Israeli athletes massacred at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
But peace also cannot happen until Israeli supporters know the scourge of daily thirst felt by Palestinian children who see, from behind a fence, Israeli settlers drinking clean water on land that used to be theirs. It cannot happen until Israeli supporters truly know what it means to live under military blockade, to huddle in squalor without adequate food while on the other side of a wall not far from you people live in relative comfort. Peace cannot happen until Israel supporters truly feel sympathy for the hundreds of Palestinian children killed by Israeli fire, just as they would for Israeli children.
In short, it all sounds hopelessly idealistic and incredibly naive, just another pie-in-the-sky fantasy concocted by a foolish American. But over the course of the next three columns, I hope to convince you that it can happen here, and to offer a concrete, practical vision of how such a movement might look. Throughout it all, I hope very much to hear and learn from you, my readers. I’ll listen and change my views based on what I hear from you.
Miles really does want to hear your opinions, so email him at milesu1 “at” stanford “dot” edu. Best email gets a prize!!