“Witnessing Palestine” with Eve Spangler

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Thursday, November 12, Eve Spangler, associate professor of sociology at Boston College, spoke about her experiences as a daughter of two Holocaust survivors approaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Spangler delivered her lecture, “Witnessing Palestine: Reflections of a Daughter of Holocaust Survivors,” to a Scheuer room filled with faculty, staff and students.

Spangler began with the story of her mother and her grandmother, both of whom were Jewish. Both women were living together in Austria when the Holocaust began, and as they began to feel increasing hostilities and racism against them, Spangler’s mother searched for a way to leave. She found her way to safety by volunteering as head chaperone on a train that was taking children from the dangers of Austria to the safety of England. After arriving in England, Spangler’s mother then moved to America where, despite her best efforts, she was never able to bring her mother. Spangler’s grandmother died in the Warsaw Ghetto shortly thereafter.

Spangler characterized her upbringing with a key distinction: while Spangler felt that Zionists were saying, “Never again to my people,” her parents taught her to say “Never again to anyone.”

Spangler used this distinction to approach the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. Spangler expressed that when she first learned about the Israeli Palestinian conflict she experienced “a throat closing.” She felt it was too big of a conflict to understand. However, she noted that over time she realized that by approaching the conflict from a human rights framework, it became more manageable for her to navigate. Now Spangler teaches a class at Boston college, “Human Rights and Social Justice in Israel & Palestine,” and leads a group of Boston College students to Israel each year where she shows them what life in Israel and the Occupied Territories is like for Palestinians.

Spangler characterized the human rights framework that she approaches the conflict through as the conviction that each and every human being is of equal value and equal dignity. However, Spangler noted that in the context of Israelis and Palestinians, “these two equal communities are divided into two very unequal political projects.”

Spangler faulted the Zionist project, saying “Zionism as a project […] is a compromised unsustainable project.”

Spangler elaborated on her opinions of Zionism by noting the three achievements that the state of Israel wishes to achieve: a Jewish state, a democratic state, and all the land between the river and the sea.

“These three things don’t go together absent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians,” Spangler said. Spangler noted that there are three options for Israel: A Jewish and democratic state, a democratic state with all the land, or a Jewish state with all the land, an option that Spangler said would be characterized by “Apartheid, Ethnic cleansing and repression.”

Spangler noted that currently Israel is operating most closely to the third option: a Jewish state with all the land, an option which is characterized by the frequent human rights abuses of Palestinians. Spangler spoke of the violations she has witnessed in her travels through Israel, by both bureaucratic and militaristic means. She noted that she believes that Americans can stop some of these human rights abuses by joining the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

In closing, Spangler told a story about when she decided to tell her mother about the work she was doing advocating for Palestinians. She was nervous that her mother might be upset, or might identify with Zionism and feel betrayed by her daughters work. However, Spangler told, with tears in her eyes, of the night she told her mother about her work and her mother’s response: “So now you have a children’s train too.”

Spangler’s most recent book, Understanding Israel/Palestine: Race, Nation, and Human Rights in the Conflict offers more insight into Spangler’s experience with the conflict.


1 Comment

  1. spangler’s dilemma is shared by many jews in jvp and elsewhere. of the three solutions she discusses, the only one which will uphold human values is the second, namely the transformation of israel/palestine into one state, a state with equal rights and justice for all. the task for us is to devise an system of government for such a state, with the necessary safeguards for all and with a civilised, non- discriminatory constitution.
    it can be done: all israelis and palestinians are, after all, human beings.

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