In an effort to spread awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP) is hosting a weeklong event for affected families to share their stories.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have fought over the land, with both groups believing they have rightful claim. Even with the current two-state solution in place, a violent struggle over the territory has continued, resulting in atrocities on both sides. Atrocities refer to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of aggression. For this event, I-GMAP is working alongside the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), an organization of over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost someone due to the violence.
The event is running from Monday, March 29 to Friday, April 2, and is being conducted over Zoom. Activities include presentations and discussions of six visitors, a series of documentaries and other informative materials designed by PCFF and I-GMAP. All BU students have the opportunity to hear the stories of affected family members firsthand.
Nadia Rubaii, co-director of I-GMAP and a professor of public administration, explained the goal of the event is to create an open dialogue and show the full story of genocide and mass atrocity prevention.
“We bring together scholars and practitioners who often don’t talk to each other but are both interested in trying to improve atrocity prevention around the world,” Rubaii said. “We try to get them in dialogue with each other in a format that other people can listen to and learn from. I-GMAP is trying, over time, to expose the University community to atrocity prevention actors from all parts of the world, illustrate [that] all parts of the world have some degree of atrocity risk and enhance appreciation for the many creative ways in which individuals and organizations are promoting prevention and building societal resilience to mass violence.”
Since the establishment of I-GMAP in 2017, the visiting practitioner program has been an integral part of the organization. The program consists of common people who have been affected by atrocities around the world coming to BU to interact with the community and share their insight on genocide and mass atrocity prevention. However, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the program came to a halt. Because this program was no longer feasible, Rubaii and Maxim Pensky, co-director of I-GMAP and a professor of philosophy, began designing virtual events, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict event.
“The set of activities planned for [this] week is our first attempt at having virtual visiting practitioners,” Rubaii said. “We decided that, because it’s a lot to ask of one person, that we’d essentially treat the [PCFF] as a visiting practitioner, and we’d tap into multiple people associated with that organization.”
The event will explore issues of conflict resolution and restorative justice in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rubaii cited four main reasons for choosing to focus on this particular region, the first of which being that I-GMAP emphasizes equal representation of all regions. They have previously hosted practitioners from Colombia, Peru, Tanzania, Rwanda, Brazil, Malaysia and Burundi, in addition to several from across the United States and Europe. However, I-GMAP has yet to host a speaker from the Middle East.
“We’re really trying to expose people to an appreciation of how atrocity violence is something that we need to be attentive to everywhere,” Rubaii said. “We’re trying to get as wide an array of countries, cultures and perspectives represented as possible, and we have not yet had anybody from Israel or the Middle East.”
Aside from the fact that Israel has yet to be represented, Rubaii believed that, for BU students in particular, focusing on this conflict is particularly important.
“Obviously [BU] has a large Jewish student and alumni population who care deeply about Israel, and may want to hear from individuals who live there about how they are experiencing the conflict,” Rubaii wrote. “[Also,] the United States is currently reckoning with how to deal with entrenched and seemingly intractable conflict, and there may be lessons we can learn from this group that is breaking down barriers and increasing personal connections and humanity so directly.”
On Monday, March 29, the first event was held. Two fathers who lost their children in the conflict spoke on the impact the violence had on their lives and offered insight on what Americans must do to help end this suffering. Rami Elhanan, one of the presenters, shared his message as the son of a Holocaust survivor and as a father who lost his child in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Seventy-five years ago, while they took my grandparents to the ovens back in Europe, the free and civilized world stood aside never lifting one finger,” Elhanan said. “And today, so many years later, while these two crazy nations of ours are massacring each other without any mercy, while this genocide is taking place in Syria and atrocities wherever you look and people are drowning in the Mediterranean like flies and nobody cares, and the free and civilized world is still standing aside doing nothing.”
Elhanan explained that he does not ask students to support one side or the other, rather that people get involved.
“Standing aside while a crime is being committed is also a crime,” Elhanan said. “We don’t have this privilege. We cannot allow it. We don’t want you to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. This will not help us. We demand of you to be pro-peace. Be against injustice, get involved, do something. Don’t stand aside.”