The article written by Spencer Fernando, entitled “Welcome Home Gilad Shalit,” has revealed that deliberate antagonism continues to override mature discussion on this campus, in turn stifling correct understanding.
We are of the designated “fringe critics” of Israel on campus — the select few who are seen to make up an unfortunate part of our campus community by the Manitoban’s comment editor. Having been granted the generous title of “misguided individuals,” we feel compelled to provide a response.
We are not writing to blast Fernando’s views of Hamas as a political organization. We are not writing to highlight the fact that he fails to contextualize the actions of Hamas and the Israeli government. We are not writing to lament over the fact that he characterizes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as a dichotomous relationship, in which blame is exclusively placed upon one party. Although we believe it is the existence of such hollow depictions on campus that is unfortunate, that is not why we are here.
Instead, we are here to address the issue that should be of concern to all students. At an early age, we learn an important lesson: name-calling is hurtful. Blatantly stating that those who dare criticize Israel are “out of touch with reality,” and thus must be doing so in a state of disillusion is offensive to say the least.
Although an editor of a section is entitled to his beliefs, they are not entitled to unfairly characterize other groups. Persuasion through generalizations and sweeping statements is useless: “Only the most biased and ill informed person could fail to see the contrast in how Israel and Hamas treated their prisoners.” Not only is it disappointing that Fernando has used such tactics to persuade readers, but the fact that the Manitoban chose to publish these words is troubling. Indeed, a student newspaper exists to publish students’ views free of unreasonable censorship. It exists to encourage the presentation of arguments, counter-arguments and ensuing debate. However, it is in fact harmful when an argument is put forward only to be followed by the purposeful belittling of anyone who may choose to oppose it.
A simple point that Fernando obscures is that individuals and organizations, which are critical of Israeli policies, are by no means supporters of Hamas or against Israeli citizens. This we need to make clear. Furthermore, to imply the inherent violence of Hamas and their supporters is as unjust as equating all Palestinians with terrorism. The plight of the Palestinian peoples, who remain marginalized in their own lands, continues to be out of view of the majority of the world — their voices effectively silenced. We have found that Fernando’s article not only does nothing to further understanding of a deeply rooted struggle, but could also serve to silence voices. This is not acceptable. We believe that as students we are certainly capable of a more comprehensive approach to issues of international importance.
The Palestinian people have suffered in obscurity for decades. Israeli prisons continue to house thousands of Palestinian prisoners, many of which are non-militant Palestinian civilians. The claim that every Palestinian prisoner held by Israel has committed acts of terrorism is unfounded and obscene. The article published by Amnesty International on Oct. 17, entitled “Israel-Hamas prisoner swap casts harsh light on detention practices of all sides,” serves to remind us that authorities of Israel and the Occupied Territories are both guilty of inhumane treatment of detainees and must both be condemned — not just Hamas.
On campus, students are working to raise awareness concerning the complexities of the Israel and Palestine conflict. This surely includes an analysis of the Israeli state apparatus and the political, economic and humanitarian implication of an occupying power. But discussion certainly does not revolve around “attacking Israel.” It is unfair to classify such discussions as “foolish and hateful rhetoric,” without making reference to a single incident when this has occurred.
Indeed, as Fernando reminds us, a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture he paints is void of any factual basis — serving only to delegitimize the voices of students on campus, while linking their views to those defined as terrorists. Spencer Fernando, words are powerful. They must be chosen carefully and cannot be used in vain. In order to create a healthy atmosphere for discussion and debate at the University of Manitoba, we must strive to dispel ignorance in order to promote understanding. Furthermore, we must respect the voices of fellow students rather than using words to silence them.