Humanizing the Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East

Yaara Shvadron and Sawsan Abdulrahim at the panel discussion Monday. Photo by Susan Miller.

Next Event in ME Initiative

The next event in the Provost’s Initiative will focus on the Middle East as a global hot spot for climate change and environmental stress on water, energy, agriculture, health and other essential necessities.

Tuesday, March 26
1 p.m. Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, “Climate Change in the Middle East.” Field Auditorium, Grainger Hall.

“I want equality, I call for equality, and I call for coexistence,” Abdulrahim said. “But coexistence cannot take place without justice and without equity. It cannot be the apartheid state that we are witnessing right now.”

Abdulrahim offered the audience a lesson in Arabic terminology to explain the history of the conflict.

One of the words she discussed was “nakba,” which means “catastrophe” in Arabic. It is what the Palestinians experienced in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel, explained Abdulrahim, whose father was forced to leave his beloved village at six years old during the mass displacement of Palestinians.

“This is a word that every Palestinian knows, and every Palestinian talks about, it's a big part of the Palestinian narrative about their experience,” she said.

Shvadron shared her own experiences, describing how a friend and her husband were shot outside of their home on Oct. 7 and their three-year-old daughter was kidnapped. In an emotional recounting of the incident, she defended Israel’s right to respond.

“Any state, any country would do exactly the same,” Shvadron said. At the same time, she said she would like to see her government change its course of action.

Jentleson, a Middle East expert who is leading the provost's initiative, agreed.

“Did Israel have a right to respond? Of course it did, any government would have the right to respond, but is this the right response?” Jentleson asked.

Although the acts committed by Hamas were “designed to traumatize and humiliate the Israeli public,” said Jentleson, at the same time, he noted that Hamas has been using Palestinians as human shields, raising questions about the organization’s loyalty to its own people.

The audience, mostly made up of students and faculty, listened respectfully, although there was a brief verbal exchange between a Palestinian student and Shvadron during the question-and-answer portion of the program.

Shvadron acknowledged the pain that her country has caused. “Both sides,” she said, “are causing terrorism to one another.”

Panelists agreed that the moral complexity of the situation raises issues for both Israelis and Palestinians. They also acknowledged discussing these issues is a first step toward finding solutions.

“If we cannot come together and sit down and have real conversations and understand the value of humanizing the broad range of humanity that is contending with this stuff,” said Jay Pearson, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Sanford School of Public Policy who organized the event, “then what are we here for?”