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

Student, faculty panels criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza

The events ignited conversation on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But professors say the fear of backlash for supporting Palestine remains
Mohammed Mourtaja, ’25, leads discussion at a People for Justice in Palestine talk. Photo by Veronika Kolosova, ’25

Students and faculty criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza and offered historical context about Israel and Palestine during events held in February and March.

The two talks on Gaza stood out against the backdrop of a campus conversation that had been largely quiet since October when events supporting Palestine and Israel were first held.

The People for Justice in Palestine (PJP), a student organization that was founded this year to celebrate Palestinian culture and history and discuss current events in the region, hosted a talk on March 5.

Mohammed Mourtaja, ’25, an international student from Palestine and a leader of the PJP, led the event and discussed the parallels between the current war in Gaza and the 1948 “Nakba,” which means “catastrophe.”

During the Nakba, about 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from what is now Israel. It occurred during the 1948 Palestine War, the first in a series of conflicts between Jewish settlers and Palestinians after the United Nations voted to create a Jewish state in Palestine, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

“This is not a presentation to teach you about Palestine, about the conflict. It’s a chance for you to do your own research,” Mourtaja said before beginning his talk.

The first parallel with the Nakba that Mourtaja highlighted was about forced displacement. According to Al Jazeera, an independent news organization based in Qatar, more than 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced because of the current war in Gaza.

“There are hundreds of Israeli ministers who are calling for the displacement of Palestinians,” Mourtaja said, “and in some cases [they are calling for] genocide.”

As the second parallel, Mourtaja called out Israel’s attacks against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is the main provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza and employs about 13,000 people in Gaza. He said it connects to Israel’s previous attempts to withhold taxes from the Palestinian government.

According to the Associated Press, Israeli officials first accused 12 UNRWA employees of being involved in the attack on Oct. 7, but has recently ramped up its accusations to include 450 employees. Israel has not provided sufficient evidence for these claims, but many Western nations have pulled support for the agency as a result.

Mourtaja said he does not believe these accusations and thinks that Israel is trying to dismantle the UNRWA because they want to control aid going into Gaza.

The third parallel Mourtaja highlighted was the erasure of Palestinian identity.

“For tens of generations, someone in the [Mourtaja] family has been taking care of the [Ibn Uthman] mosque,” he said. “Israel destroyed that mosque.”

In a question-and-answer segment following the talk, Karim Abualnaja, ’27, said the patterns Mourtaja pointed out are nothing new.

“[The conflict] started 75 years before October 7,” Abualnaja said, “People think that if you start watching a show at episode five you’re going to understand the whole show, it doesn’t work that way.”

After the 20-minute Q&A, guests got to mingle with members of the PJP.

“I’m passionate about [Palestinian justice],” Teresa Loughery, ’24, said. “I think it’s important when you have limited power to come to things like this and do what you can do.”

Faculty discuss label of genocide

The PJP talk came just weeks after two Washington and Lee professors said that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

The professors said that speaking in support of Palestinians poses professional risks and has made them fearful of expressing their views.

“I am friends with people who have lost their jobs… because of their view on Palestine,” one professor said. “It may even cost me my job. But people are dying… and that’s way more important.”

Seth Cantey, professor of politics and head of Middle East and South Asian studies, Lubabah Chowdhurry, professor of English, Mark Drumbl, professor of law, and Romina Green, professor of history, all spoke at the panel on Feb. 14 entitled “A Candid Conversation about the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza.”

The speakers requested that the panel not be recorded. It was also held under the Chatham House’ rule, which states that quotes can be shared but not attributed to individual speakers or attendees.

The professors said the rule was put in place to allow those at the panel to speak more freely.

During the discussion, professors criticized Israel’s killing of Palestinians in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Israel’s “genocidal goals” mirror other genocides in history, one professor said, with the text of Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention projected in front of the audience.

“Never again,” a professor said, a phrase associated with the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Another professor said that they thought it is “extremely unlikely” that the International Court of Justice will find that Israel breached the Genocide Convention.

“It may be that the legal definition of genocide… is too narrow,” they said. “Sometimes law and lawyers might just disappoint.”

Another professor discussed how the history behind the creation of Israel has fueled conflict.

“How do you create a Jewish state… in an area where the population is 80 percent Arab?” they said. “It’s a hard truth… either immigration or elimination.”

Israel has razed Gaza, the professor said, and there are more people at risk who have nowhere to go.

“Right now, in Rafah, there’s between a million and a million and half people on the brink of a ground invasion,” they said. “They’re being asked to move again. To where?”

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