In Perspective: Is the Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire a Calm Before Another Storm?

Sep 17, 2014

This summer’s escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to a relative stand-still with both sides currently holding to the cease-fire signed late last month. But many say the conflict is far from resolution.

In its inaugural episode, “In Perspective” invites subject matter experts from UT-Austin, New York University, and Rice University to discuss the conflict, its future and its impact on Israeli and Palestinian cultures with KUT’s Rebecca McInroy.

"In Perspective" is a long-form podcast hosted by KUT's Rebecca McInroy in partnership with the Texas Humanities Project which examines cultural, political and social issues through the lens of academia, inviting professors and subject matter experts from academia in roundtable discussions. Below is background information on the experts from this episode of "In Perspective."

Lecturer in the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT Austin, Dr. Amelia Weinreb researches Jewish life and identities in Israel and Latin America. To the discussion at hand she brings insights into the diversity of cultural, religious, political, and sexual identities co-existing in Israel. She is particularly interested in teasing out some of the growing tensions between peace protesters, radical right-wing protesters, and the large population of Israelis who support the nation’s defensive maneuvers against Hamas.

Dr. Karen Grumberg is Associate Professor of Hebrew Studies in UT Austin’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies, researching contemporary Hebrew literature and comparative Jewish literatures. Here, she shares with us a critical literary perspective focusing on the relationships between language, place, and identity. She asks: Who is Palestinian? Who is Israeli? And she explains how the literatures and cinemas of the region can offer insight, catharsis, and hope.

Associate Professor of History at UT Austin, Dr. Yoav Di-Capua researches modern Arab intellectual history. On In Perspective, he emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the moral dilemma at the foundation of the conflict(s). He, too, understands Israeli identity to be in a state of flux and he  provides some historical context for this fragmentation. Ultimately, he shares his pessimism regarding resolution of the conflict.

Professor of History at Rice University, Dr. Ussama Makdisi, studies the Arab world in the 20th Century, the Ottoman Empire, and the history of Islam and the West. In the latter half of this episode of In Perspective, he provides a historical frame for understanding Israeli/Palestinian war. In particular, he asks us to think of it not in terms of religious difference and not as an “age-old” conflict, as some frequently refer to it. Instead, he asks us to understand this specifically as a conflict over land that results from exclusionary ideologies.

Dr. Helga Tawil Souri is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication in the Steinhardt School at New York University. Her research focuses on media, territory, and politics in the Middle East. She points out the plethora of pro-Palestinian voices circulating via social media and discusses the heightened visibility of the conflict in the U.S. Simultaneously, she notes the continued exclusion and silencing of actual Palestinian voices in mainstream media coverage. She emphasizes the need to distinguish between threats faced by Israel and those confronting Palestine.

Dr. Samer Ali, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at UT Austin, researches Arabic literature and culture, oral histories of early Islam, and pre- and early Islamic religion and mythology. One of his contributions to this discussion includes a comparative take on U.S. understanding of Israeli/Palestinian conflicts since the 1980s. He frames identity as interactive and therefore reliant to some extent on audience recognition and awareness. He discusses the shift in demand by Americans for informative and balanced coverage of Israeli/Palestinian conflicts since the 1980s.

What’s your perspective?

In the United States, we often frame politics and war as two-sided battles, encouraging each other to choose sides. Our roundtable participants, however, encourage listeners to remember that the region and its conflicts involve multiple complex relationships and identities in addition to their extensive histories. Ultimately, this discussion opens up space for further exploration and poses more questions than could be addressed in the time allotted. There is much more to be said about how gender identities factor into the conflict, for instance. And the idea of the nation as a shared identity raises questions about what it means to live in an occupied or colonized community such as Gaza.

We invite you to listen to "In Perspective" and comment below to keep this conversation going. Check back this time next month for our second "In Perspective" roundtable.