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Presentation: Thinking about the Israel / Palestine dispute

A 21 minute talk given to the sixth form of Francis Holland School in London which emphasises people's tendency to take sides on the dispute.

Summary

Delivered on 19 September 2017. Posted 20 September 2017. Parallel Histories added 17 November 2019. Question and answer session added 19 April 2020

One purpose of my website is to make it easy for strangers to contact me.

On 29 June I received the following email via my website:

Dear Mohammed Amin,

We are two upper sixth students inquiring on behalf of Francis Holland School's History and Politics Society. We are extremely interested in your area of work and its contemporary pertinence. We believe that our society could benefit hugely from a talk bringing light to the topic of the Israel Palestine conflict covering both a brief background history but also your personal views and how that may relate to modern influences of conflict in the UK media and societal perception.

In an age of such outdated persecution we feel it is imperative for all to understand the necessary respect for cultural diversity in Britain and globally. We are very intrigued by all of the work that you do and would be delighted to be able to meet you and benefit and learn from your stance and expertise. We understand that you are very busy but any response would be much appreciated regarding attending our society for a discussion and debate.

Kind Regards,
[Names of senders]

While I had never heard of the school before, a quick search established that it was in London, and therefore very accessible for me. We scheduled the talk for 19 September. The session time was 40 minutes, and I wanted to allow plenty of time for discussion with the audience.

This page has the following sections:

  1. Planning the talk.
  2. Video of my PowerPoint presentation combined with audio recording.
  3. Supplemental reading.
  4. Resource for teachers: Parallel Histories.
  5. The question and answer session.

Planning the talk

Both past experience, and also some encounters with people between agreeing to speak and creating the talk, made me acutely aware of the tendency of people to take entrenched positions on the dispute. Having done so, they typically then proceed to demonise the other party.

As I would be speaking in an educational setting, I decided to make this the theme of my talk, while also seeking to equip them to better understand the dispute.

You can listen to the presentation and see the slides below.

Video

 

How the presentation was recorded

My first presentation recording was done on the spur of the moment, just putting my iPhone 6 on the table and relying on its built in microphone. See my page Lecture: One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom.

Once I found recording presentations worthwhile, I purchased a high quality Sennheiser digital lapel microphone which plugs into the data socket of my iPhone 6. That produces a much better recording.

The slides

I am happy to share the original PowerPoint slide presentation.

Erratum

On slide 11, which is just over 13 minutes in, I give the date of the Yom Kippur war as 1974. This shows the danger of relying upon one's memory. That war was of course in 1973. This has been corrected in the PowerPoint slides supplied above.

Supplemental reading

The presentation mentions the following:

My review of "The Jewish State" by Theodor Herzl

My review of "Old New Land (Altneuland)" by Theodor Herzl

The book “The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Jonathan Schneer.

"The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement 18 August 1988" on the Yale Law School website.

Hamas's May 2017 update on the Middle East Eye website.

Other reading and the maps in the presentation

There is a section of my website devoted to the Israel / Palestine dispute. In particular, the three maps mentioned in the presentation can be seen at a larger size in my review of "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War" by Benny Morris.

Twitter and Facebook

My talk mentions a tweet of 19 June and the subsequent response. The tweet is embedded below, and clicking it will show you the responses it received.

I enjoyed attending iftar hosted by Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev at his residence this evening. Good mix of Muslims and Jews present.

— Mohammed Amin (@Mohammed_Amin) June 19, 2017

The talk also mentions the linked Facebook status update, and the comments and likes and other reactions it received.

Resource for teachers: Parallel Histories

The charity Parallel Histories was set up by Michael Davies, a history teacher I have known since 2015 when I spoke at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. It develops methods and resources for teaching contested histories in parallel.

The have an excellent collection of materials for learning about the Israel / Palestine conflict.

A partial transcript of the question and answer session

The question and answer session was also recorded. However, I am not publishing the full audio recording for two main reasons:

  1. While the sound quality of my responses is very clear, the questioners were some distance from the microphone. Accordingly, in many cases their questions are almost inaudible.
  2. I respect the privacy of those asking the questions. I do not have their written consent to publish their recordings. In many cases, I do not even know who they were, so cannot seek permission.

Instead, I have listened to the Q&A session and, where I regard the questions as being worth sharing, have written down a condensed version of the questions. I have then published the audio of my answers.

1. Do you think that the problem of terrorism can be solved, when they justify their position with religious texts and do not regard themselves as doing anything wrong?

Recording of my 90-second answer

2. The way you describe the conflict suggests that you think religion is not the source of it. If we can take religion out of it, does it then become just a territorial conflict?

During my answer I explained how governments sometimes secretly assist and promote their most extreme opponents to undermine their more moderate opponents.

I also covered the religious positioning of some of the main Israeli political parties.

I garbled the title of the book I mentioned in my answer. The correct title is “Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life” by Sari Nusseibeh.

Recording of my 3-minute answer

3. What do you think of the rule that to have the status of a Palestinian refugee, you have to be descended from an original refugee through your father, and that daughter’s cannot convey this status?

The patrilineal descent was not something that I was familiar with. I believe the questioner had in mind this definition from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ("UNRWA") website:

Who are Palestine refugees?

Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” 

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration. 

During my answer I shared my view that the Palestinian “Right of Return” is incapable of being exercised.

Recording of my 2-minute answer

4. What do you think the role of the UN and the international community should be in this dispute?

I explained why the outside world needs to play a much stronger role.

Recording of my 90-second answer

5. Do you think that the UN would be able to act impartially in this dispute given the overwhelmingly strong voice that the USA has in the UN?

Recording of my 1-minute answer

6. What is the best way of resolving the dispute, given that some Israeli Jews want to annex all the land, while Hamas wants to eliminate the state of Israel?

As part of my general approach, rather than trying to lay down a detailed solution with no authority to implement it, I brought my answer back to what I and the pupils could do to make a difference.

Recording of my 2-minute answer

7. What do you think about the boycott Israel movement? Does it help the situation?

I stressed the distinction between boycotting Israel (which I oppose), and boycotting Israeli West Bank settlements (which I support).

Recording of my 1-minute answer

 

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