Last Sunday, two Israeli Defense Forces soldiers spoke at Swarthmore on behalf of the Israeli Soldiers Stories campaign from Stand With Us, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inform the public about Israel, combat anti-Semitism, and to stand up for Israel. Members from Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) who participated in the lecture were very concerned about some of the false narratives presented. In their scripted monologues, the two speakers ignored the complex regional history and the ramifications of Israel’s foundations. SPJP always applauds any genuine effort to discuss the conflict in a safe and neutral manner; however, we strongly felt that this was not the case last Sunday. While their presence was meant to break down barriers between the two sides of the conflict, they ultimately produced a discourse that further reinforced them.

First, when telling their stories, the soldiers largely ignored the painful and controversial formation of Israel from Palestinian territory as well as the history of divided Jewish support for Zionism. While explaining what it was like to grow up around violence, the soldiers focused on the acts of violence without contextualizing, questioning, or addressing its root cause.  Furthermore, they argued that any Palestinian hatred toward Israel was the result of a lack of education and an indoctrination of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic beliefs. We feel this is a surface level response, and an avoidance of facts that is unproductive for appropriate discussion.

Another major aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the soldiers ignored was the power imbalance between Israel and Palestine. Israel is currently the largest recipient of US aid, while Palestine is a state under occupation, with regions like Gaza under blockades with severe restrictions on educational and economic opportunities. Israel also has by far the most capable military in the Middle East. When asked about the impact of this power imbalance on discourse and politics, the soldiers responded that the most important power imbalance was that Israel was surrounded by numerous Arab states wanting to destroy it, further reinforcing the dated and paranoid discourse of defense. However, Israel has maintained full, open diplomatic relations with Egypt (since 1979) and Jordan (since 1994).

Another one of the repeated claims put forth by one soldier was that he would not stand for anyone who threatens his “national identity”, and would never sit down with a Nazi, a KKK member, or Hamas. While the soldiers professed a desire for a peaceful political resolution, “negotiating with terrorists” is a reality that cannot be ignored. Even the US now negotiates with the Taliban. This discourse of “terrorism” serves to artificially isolate Hamas and prevent the comparison of Hamas’ actions with Israel’s. While Hamas’ attacks on civilians can never be justified, they are an important player in the politics of the region; ignoring them will not make them go away, nor will it assuage their violent acts.

Most importantly, these soldiers completely ignored the masses of human rights violations committed by the IDF. Instead, they asserted that the occupation is an attempt to stimulate the economy of Palestine. This is blatantly false. The speakers repeatedly complained about criticisms of Israel, arguing that it has the best human rights record in the region. According to the Human Rights Watch, in 2013, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians, destroyed their homes, imposed severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, and arbitrarily arrested Palestinians, both children and peaceful protestors. Israel has also imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2005, stopping almost all exports, and severely restricting imports, essentially imprisoning its 1.6 million population (Amnesty International).

The speaker went on to assert that the internationally legitimized claims that Israel pursues apartheid policies with regards to its treatment of Palestinians were “ridiculous accusations” rooted in ignorance and anti-Semitism. This rhetoric conflates religious and national boundaries (anti-Semitism vs. anti-Israel), and only serves to distract from Israeli human rights violations, of which there are many. The soldiers argued that the world cannot accuse Israel of human rights abuses when all the other nations in the Middle East were committing them as well. Yet human rights violations in one country are no less important than in another.

One soldier’s script detailing his positive experience as a gay man serving in the Israeli army was an example of “Pinkwashing”, which is a marketing tactic Israel uses to appear progressive through support of the LGBT community, while concealing their violations of Palestinian human rights. In line with this idealistic image of Israel, one speaker went so far as to say that “the only country in the world that helps Syrians is Israel,” as if the millions of Syrian refugees currently harbored by Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and the humanitarian efforts of international organizations are insignificant.

In order for discourse on the conflict to be peaceful and productive, there needs to be a proper acknowledgement of facts and reality. Ignoring the complex history of Israel’s establishment and the human rights violations it has been committing toward Palestinians ever since only results in anger and alienation of the two sides. SPJP hopes that by bringing these flawed narratives to light, we will encourage people to approach future discussions on this issue with a greater understanding and a critical eye.

Aneesa Andrabi ’16, Joelle Hageboutrous ’16, Danny Hirschel-Burns ’14, and Timmy Hirschel-Burns ’17 have written this piece on behalf of Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine. 


  1. SPJP,
    As an advocacy group, it is abjectly ludicrous for you to claim to support “any genuine effort to discuss the conflict in a safe and neutral manner”. You have consistently advocated against Israel, as you once again do here. I’m not saying you should advocate on behalf of the Palestinians. Only that you appear utterly hypocritical in your portrayal of Israeli offences while blithely dismissing Hamas’ atrocities. Shame on you.

  2. A very thoughtful and well researched piece. Very impressed with the depth of the students’ knowledge.

    • SJP is a hate organization spreading lies to demonize the Jewish state. It promotes a false Palestinian narrative as a blood libel for incitement. For the past 100 years Jewish response in Palestine has been a resistance against Genocide. Dysfunctional Arab societies have called for the murder of Jews for over 100 years, this continues today. SJP is a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas promoting Genocide by other means. Peace is not their Goal-the insertion of ‘peace’ in their name (most campus groups are called Student for Justice in Palestine) is to mislead. Deceiving well intentioned and idealistic college students in the promotion of the destruction of the only Jewish state is SPJP’s true goal.

  3. @Alum,

    First off, it’s a bit of a technicality, so forgive me for pointing it out, but Swarthmore SPJP is not an advocacy group. Its mission it to focus on human rights and humanitarian issues in Palestine, and it does not take explicit stances on political issues. It welcomes members of all political stripes.

    To go to your first point, I’d challenge you to provide evidence that it is “ludicrous” for us to say we support dialogue. We have a strong history of doing just since I’ve been here.

    To your next point, I’m not sure what you mean by “advocating against Israel”. Part of our point is that disagreement and discussion over the nature of the political arrangements in Israel and Palestine is a legitimate debate that has existed for a long time. Yes, we’re pointing out some of the problems with Israeli policy, but I do not see how that crosses the line into unacceptable.

    Finally, on your point about Hamas, I cannot see what has led you to that opinion. We write that, “…Hamas’ attacks on civilians can never be justified…” Criticize Israeli policy does not mean we are taking Hamas’ side or vice versa. Yes, I believe that negotiating with Hamas could lead to better outcomes for Israeli and Palestinian civilians, but to say we “blithely dismiss Hamas’ atrocities” has no factual basis.


  4. @anonymous,

    As far as I know, SJP does not endorse a two-state solution, but I’m not sure about it’s stance on “peace”. It definitely does not advocate a violent solution.

    Swarthmore Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine is entirely unaffiliated with SJP.


  5. This article is a wonderful example of an inverted morality. Israel is the most liberal most progressive country in the Middle East-existing in a sea of dysfunctional societies which oppress women, gays and minorities. Israel is far from perfect only better than all countries in the region. There can not be peace in the middle east without justice and justice can not exist without truth- SPJP is not interested in the truth.
    The sad reality is that too many Arabs want the destruction of the Jewish state, and the displacement or slaughter of the Jews. Arab societies have murdered or expelled the Jews and now murdering and expelling Christians. Arab societies inability to deal with pluralism is the problem. Marxist post colonial framing of the conflict is an indecent and vicious lie that appeals to bigots.

  6. Your “advocacy” group is nothing more than a hate group packing itself as a humanitarian rights organization.

    ” It definitely does not advocate a violent solution.” – Danny Burns.
    Yet you have a blind eye to the genocidal campaign against Jews and Israel. As Alumni said, shame on you.

    Keep at it, more and more people are waking up to your agenda and the lies you spread. At the end of the day, you are the ones that must live with yourselves for supporting terrorists. Swathmore College would be benefited if hate groups like SPJP were recognized as what they truly are, hate groups.

  7. What a slick piece of propaganda. The authors advocate negotiating with Hamas and excoriate Israel for killing Palestinian civilians, while ignoring several crucial facts:

    1. Hamas targets Israeli civilians and glories in killing them, with Palestinians celebrating their murders by passing out candies on the streets of Gaza.
    2. The IDF is the only military force in the world that warns civilians beforehand that it is going to attack, so that they can safely evacuate.
    3. Hamas has been widely criticized, even by the anti-Israel UN, for launching attacks from civilian areas so as to provoke retaliatory fire that will kill civilians and can be then used for propaganda purposes.
    4. Accusing Israel of practicing apartheid is an obscene blood libel. Apartheid was a race-based system of discrimination and segregation. There are Muslim Arabs serving in the Knesset; in which Muslim countries are Jews in the Parliament? There would be no wall, and no checkpoints, if Islamic jihadists didn’t keep attacking Israel. As has been said, if the Palestinians laid down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis laid down their arms, there would be a new genocide of the Jews.
    5. Official Palestinian Authority TV and Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV routinely feature calls for genocide and the total destruction of Israel. There are never any such calls regarding Palestinians on Israeli TV.

    The authors say: “In order for discourse on the conflict to be peaceful and productive, there needs to be a proper acknowledgement of facts and reality.” This is indeed true. But their piece contains no measure of either one.

  8. The hypocrisy of this SJPJ article is astounding The authors conclude, ” SPJP hopes that by bringing these flawed narratives to light, we will encourage people to approach future discussions on this issue with a greater understanding and a critical eye.” The false narratives, however, are those presented by this SPJP article. I will explore one example, though the article is full of manySJPJ false narratives. The authors write, ” the painful and controversial formation of Israel from Palestinian territory”: There has never been a state called “Palestine”. The people who now call themselves “Palestinains” always lived in a region ruled by others. The region had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years. After World War I the Ottoman lands were turned over to the allies in the Sykes Picot treaty, under which the Ottomans kept Turkey. The allies, and the League of Nations created mandates to partition the borderless regions into independant nation states with distinct borders and national identities and self determination /self rule. The former” Greater Syria”, or “Syria Palestina” included the land now Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The French were given the mandate for the part of former Greater Syria/Syria Palestina which they partitioned into the nation states Syria for Muslims, and Lebanon for Maronite Christians. The British were given the mandate for the part of former Greater Syria/Syria Palestina which included the land now Jordan , Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The area now Israel was not called “Palestine” during the Ottoman times. Rather, it was the British who named their mandate, which included the land now Israel, Jordan , West Bank and Gaza “The British Mandate for Palestine”. The British gave 78% of the British Mandate for Palestine to Jordan for a state for the Muslims of the region, no Jews allowed by law from its inception. The remaining 22% of the British Mandate Palestinian Region(including the West Bank and Gaza) was reserved to the Jewish state under the San Remo Accords. This was agreed to by Arab leaders in the Faisal Wietzman agreement under which many Arab states were also created. The local Arabs protested and the British Mandate illegally offered them land for a second Muslim state, out of the land reserved under San Remo and Faisal Weizmann to the Jewish state. The local Arab leaders refused. Later, in the Partition Plan, the Mandate again illegally offered the local Arabs land from lands reserved to the Jewish state under San Remo and Faisal Weizmann . The local Arab leaders refused this twice. There was ample opportunity for self determination for the Muslims of the region in the other states formed from most of the land of former Greater Syria/Syria Palestina. San Remo was incorporated with the foundational documents of the UN.
    The Arabs who lived in the region owned hardly any of the land they lived on and farmed, 3.5-5%. They were renters, tenant farmers, migrant workers. There are extensive Ottoman land records and British Mandate land records. There were detailed Ottoman land laws. During the Ottoman period there were periods of high taxation and inflation. The fellaheen had high debt. They could not own, or if they had owned lost title. Also local Arabs sought to avoid taxation and military draft by not registering deeds as required by Ottoman law. So those who had owned lost title that way. Large tracts of land were sold to the prospective Jewish state by wealthy Syrian and Turkish absentee landlords and local elites. The rest of the land was public land privately owned by no one. Ownership of public lands passed from the Ottoman Empire to the British Manadate who apportioned it as above, to Jordan and Israel.
    About the term”Palestinian”: it referred to Jews. The Palestinian Opera, Bank, News, Soccer Team were all Jewish. The Palestinian Pound was British Mandate money with Hebrew writing on it. The Arabs of the region did not call themselves “Palestinians”, and were insulted if anyone called them that. “Palestinian” meant Jew. The Arabs of the region called themselves “Southern Syrians’ or simply “Arabs”. And in fact many of them were recent work migrants from all over the Arab world, who had come to work in the vital Jewish made economy, a bright spot in the entire region at times. During the 1700s and 1800s the area now Israel was very sparsely populated. The soil was depleted, mostly marsh and desert. Jews always lived there, and more started immigrating back from the early 1800s. The Ottomans encouraged this because they saw how the Jewish immigrants created agriculture and business.In the mid 1800s Arabs came for employment in the Jewish economy.In the late 1800s Jewish refugees from riots in North African and Arab countries came. Again Arab migrant workers followed for work in the economy the Jewish immigrants had created. During the depression the land now Israel was the only bright spot for employment in a very depressed Arab world and Arabs migrated to Israel from all over the Arab world. That is why the family names of those who now call themselves “Palestinians” show origin all over the Arab world.It also explains the UN s definition of refugee differing from its definition of refugee for any other location, in that it defines as refugee anyone who lived there two years. Many of the Arabs living there in 1946 were recent work migrants. The Southern Syrians only started calling themselves”Palestinians” in 1964 when Arafat did so based on guidance of the propaganda unit of the KGB.
    Those who now call themselves “Palestinians” had always lived on land ruled by others , and lived on and farmed land owned by others. They never had national rights, nor private ownership of the land now Israel. By 1940 Jews were 40% of the population of the land now Israel, WB and Gaza. Jerusalem had been majority Jewish for a very long time. The article is misleading in saying that Israel was “formed from Palestinian territory.”
    Additionally there were more Jewish refugees from Arab lands in the period of state formation (one million Jews were forced to flee Arab lands, all property confiscated in the 30s, 40s and 50s) than Arab refugees from Israel (350,000-750,000). The Arab countries stole 5x the land of pre 67 Israel from their Jews. The Arabs of the region now Israel had perpetrated massacres and ethnic cleansing on the Jewish population in the 20s and 30s. The Jewish militias did not even form until the mid 30s after more than a decade of Arab massacres.( Also when Jordan occupied WB and E Jerusalem 48-67, Jordan ethnically cleansed those areas of Jewish communities who had lived there for thousands of years.) It was clear to the British Mandate, The League of Nations and the UN that separation was necessary. There was population exchange in the context of civil war at the time of geopolitical transformation of the entire middle east from border less regions ruled by others to the emergence of nation states with distinct national identities, and borders and self determination/self rule. Those who now call themselves “palestinians” have suffered at the hands of their own corrupt feckless leaders, and under the agendas of Arab states, and corrupt self perpetuating UNRWA. Minorities have not fared well in the middle east and still do not. Increasingly minorities in the Middle East will demand and get self determination in states of their own. Arab imperialism hasn’t worked.
    SJP, SJPJ, JVP, BDS are hate groups, with alliance to terrorist groups and funded and planned by Gulf states. Their false narrative does not meet the academic and ethical standards I expect of Swarthmore. These groups should be banned from campus.

  9. The Times of Israel

    The Blogs > Fred Maroun
    This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content here are presented solely by the author, and The Times of Israel assumes no responsibility for them. In case of abuse, report this post.
    Letter from an Arab to a Jew who supports BDS
    April 8, 2016, 8:29 pm 25

    Fred Maroun
    Fred Maroun Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil … [More]

    The IDF soldier who killed an unarmed Palestinian terrorist deserves our support
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    Memo to Israeli victims of terror: The West does not care
    The BDS movement: Idealism or anti-Semitism?
    Canada’s left has turned its back on Israel

    I have a question to ask you, but first I would like to establish my understanding of who you are.

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    You are Jewish, probably young and probably American, but you may be European or even Israeli, and you may not be so young any more. You have embraced the Arab battle against Zionism and you support the BDS movement, which as I demonstrated previously, aims for a single binational state in place of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and aims for the “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees who would make Israel overnight an Arab state.

    Your position interests me because I am the same as you and yet I am your opposite. I am the same as you in that I am in the countercurrent of my own community, but I am the opposite of you in my ethnicity and in my allegiances in the Israel-Arab conflict. I am an Arab who supports Jewish nationalism.

    Your position is much less selfish than mine, I must admit. While I support Israel because I see huge benefits for my Arab compatriots in emulating Israel and in adopting its human rights and democratic values and its enterprising spirit, you support Arabs while knowing that you and your community will get less than nothing in return.

    Since you are educated (I assume that you are educated since you took a bold stand that most people in your faith community disapprove of) then you know that Jews like you were ethnically cleansed from all Arab countries. You also know that when Jews like you faced the Holocaust, no country in the world provided them a safe haven.

    Despite this knowledge, you selflessly want to give up Jewish sovereignty over the only part of the Middle East where Jews are still allowed to live, and the only safe haven for Jews who face discrimination and violence anywhere in the world. I have to admit that this level of selflessness is well beyond my capabilities.

    You have assured your friends that your stand is genuine and not meant to appease the anti-Semites. You have insisted that your opposition to Israel is not conformism to the anti-Zionist orthodoxy of the radical left.

    Yet, I have difficulty rejoicing because while you are willing to sacrifice your own people, I am not willing to sacrifice mine. The demise of Israel as a Jewish state would affect much more than your people. It would also extinguish the only hope remaining for progressive Arabs like me.

    For us Arabs, whether we are Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, or any other variety of Arabs, we know that there is only one place in the Middle East that respects our liberal values, and that is the Jewish state of Israel. We obsessively hold on to that hope.

    Your stand against Israel, if it is successful, would help some Arabs, I admit. It would help terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbullah. It would help Arab despots who rely on anti-Zionist rhetoric to remain in power. It would help, and in fact it already helps, the Palestinian leadership avoid making peace with Israel, which keeps the Palestinians stateless and fully dependent on Israel and on Western charity. Your stand undeniably helps ultra-conservative and reactionary Arab forces.

    You have heard many stories of Israeli abuse of Palestinian human rights, and that is what encouraged you to take the stand that you did. You also believe that Jews are imperialist invaders in the Middle East, and that they re-created the Jewish nation at the expense of the Arab residents.

    When you learn that the vast majority of the accusations of human rights abuses against Israel consistently turn out to be false, you remain satisfied in the knowledge that some of them turn out to be true. When you are reminded that your own people, the Jews, have lived on the land of Israel for over 3000 years and that they had a long history all over the Middle East (until they were ethnically cleansed), you dismiss it because it contradicts your narrative.

    When you are asked why you want to penalize the Jews of Israel while not penalizing Arabs for the much worse crimes that they commit against Jews and Arabs, you say that you are only concerned about improving the behavior of your own people and that it is up to Arabs to worry about improving the behavior of Arabs. Your response confirms the importance of my stand, which is to try to improve the behavior of Arabs. Unfortunately, while you seem to complement what I do, by demonizing Israel, the only real hope for the Arab world, you are also making my struggle much more difficult.

    So here you are. A Jew who insists on an impossibly high moral standard for Israel even if it brings an end to the security or even existence of your own people, and even if it undermines the Arab struggle to achieve modest liberal values that Jews have achieved long ago. You take a left-wing, progressive, activist stand and yet your stand aids the anti-Semites and the most right-wing reactionary Arabs.

    Which brings me to my question. Is there perhaps some other cause that you can support instead of the Arab/Palestinian cause? Preferably a cause that does not involve Arabs?

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