The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Faculty discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A panel of faculty members accepted questions from students on a variety of topics related to violence in the Middle East
Shauna Muckle
Left to right: Professors Bob Strong, Emily Filler, Seth Cantey and Mohamed Kamara discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a packed Stackhouse Theater on Wednesday.

Updated Oct. 24

Is the situation in Israel and Palestine a “conflict” or a “humanitarian crisis”?

Winter Ashley, ’25, an intern for the United Nations Foundation, posed this question to four faculty members participating in an informational panel on Israel and Palestine.

“All said and done, it’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Mohamed Kamara, head of the romance languages department.

Politics professor Seth Cantey, religion professor Emily Filler, Kamara and moderator Bob Strong, a politics professor, contemplated this question and more during an hour-long panel Wednesday evening. The faculty members addressed student questions about the conflict that, as of Oct. 23, has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 in Gaza and at least 1,400 in Israel, according to United Nations news.

The Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international relations, calls the situation the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Meanwhile, news organizations like the New York Times and the Associated Press are terming the situation the “Israel-Hamas war.” The Phi will use “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” for the sake of sensitivity toward all students.

The four professors offered context and shared their own thoughts on the conflict to a packed Stackhouse Theater. More than 30 minutes were reserved for questions from attendees.

Strong kicked off the conversation by asking what Americans and students understand poorly about the conflict.

Kamara, who is Muslim, prefaced his remarks by saying that he is a pacifist and endorses choosing “the side of humanity.”

“Violence especially in the form of war has not and will never lead us to permanent peace, to meaningful peace,” he told the audience.

Cantey, who focuses on the Middle East and terrorism in his research, offered more comments.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that things that should be really easy become really hard,” he said.

“It should be really, really easy to look at what Hamas did on Oct. 7 and say, ‘That was terrorism,’” he added. “We should also be able to say very clearly, without hesitation, that when the Israeli minister of defense says, ‘We’re going to cut off food, water and electricity to millions of people,’ it is wrong. It is most likely a war crime.”

Cantey said half of Gaza’s population of more than two million is made up of children. Eighty percent of the population lives under humanitarian assistance, he said.

But Cantey also offered harsh remarks against Hamas.

“I think Israel has a right to destroy Hamas,” he said.

But Cantey noted Hamas has far fewer members than Gaza’s population. The United States Director of National Intelligence estimates the organization has between 20,000 and 25,000 members.

Cantey said the Israeli Air Force’s announcement on Oct. 14 that it has dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza is a “really problematic approach.”

Students also asked panel members questions about the possibility of the conflict spreading and media coverage of the violence.

One student asked about how to grapple with the political nature of mourning certain lives lost in the conflict.

“We should all mourn the death of children. How can we not?” Strong said.

But Filler, who studies the Jewish philosphical tradition, pushed back. She questioned whether it’s possible to mourn every death equally, or if mourning is inherently political.

“I’m not sure exactly what that means to mourn in a way… that extends beyond politics,” she said. “Some people or peoples do feel closer to me than others in such a way that I’m affectively moved by their death.”

The panel closed on a question about whether Palestinians have a right to self-defense after years of airstrikes by the Israeli government.

“The answer is yes,” Cantey said. In a lengthy response, he said there have been examples of non-state actors pursuing violence for just ends. He cited an example of a paramilitary group killing 19 with a car bomb in South Africa during apartheid.

He said the people in Gaza are living in “intolerable conditions.”

“Gaza as far as I can tell is hell on earth,” he said. “I’m not trying to justify Palestinian violence – I’m trying to explain it.”

Students had mixed reactions after the event.

“I think the university tried to handle it in the most neutral way possible,” Tania Kozachanska, ’26, said. “This talk was incredibly important to happen on campus.”

Two members of Hillel said they weren’t ready to comment immediately after the event.

Siya, ’27, said she thought Cantey was the only person on the stage with “domain knowledge.”

She also said she didn’t think Kamara represented the full Muslim experience.

“He just wasn’t representing the Muslim point of view,” she said. “When we go to a panel that’s about the Israel-Palestine conflict… you expect there to be more nuance to the situation than just saying, ‘Killing is bad.’”

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Shauna Muckle, Editor-in-Chief

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