Symposium Illuminates Complexities of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Roni Kay O’Dell, a political scientist and global studies professor, told the audience at a recent Seton Hill symposium that both Palestine and Israel “have a right and a claim to a nation-state for themselves.”

“The notion that, as a nation, the people or groups have a human right to be represented by that government and to have a territory and the ability to make decisions,” said O’Dell.

The graphs showcased during the panel highlight that the conflict is “one of the most intense fighting (between Palestine and Israel) since 1948”. Furthermore, the graphs highlight the seemingly disproportionate deaths of Palestinian citizens.

Jim Paharik, director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at SHU, spoke of his “experiences living, working, and researching in Israel to gain a religious perspective of the conflict. Behind all these statistics you’ve just heard about are people whose lives have been shattered. There is tremendous suffering that’s gone on for the past 75 years.

“I would go almost every year for several years…what I wanted to do was study the people who wanted to make peace. These are the people we never hear about in the news…we don’t hear the stories of those who’ve dedicated their lives to creating a more peaceful society.” Said Paharik, highlighting his nuanced look at the Israeli perspective.

Paharik continued to highlight the complexities behind the South Africa ICJ case of genocide, sparking a dialogue between the panelists and the audience. “My view is that the definition of genocide is vague enough that you could make the case. But for me, the term genocide does not properly fit what’s happening.”

“Is it the goal to eliminate the Palestinian people? I don’t think that’s the goal. The problem we face now is, what happens next? You have a Gaza that is in ruin; how does it get rebuilt? All these questions are with us now because of the severity of that (Israel’s) response (to Hamas).” said Paharik

David von Schilcten, the Dean of Humanities and religious studies, highlighted the disparities in deaths as it relates to gender, “NPR aired a story that women and children are the main victims in the Israel – Hamas war, with some 16,000 killed and an estimated two mothers losing their lives every hour.”

“There’s certainly legislation and policies in place,” said von Schilcten, “The Geneva Conventions recognize sexual violence during the conflict in broad terms; the Rome statute classifies rape and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity and war crimes depending on the context.”

Fran Leap, a professor of theology, and Sister Maureen O’Brien, concluded the symposium by describing “Praying the news” as a “longstanding tradition at Seton Hill.”

“The first step is to acknowledge, the second step is to address and listen, and the third step is to ask ourselves, ‘Okay, what’s next?’..maybe that action is to acquire more knowledge. If we remain faithful to discern in prayer, we eventually realize our call to action,” Said Leap, ”The fourth thing about that action is that we have to follow through”. Ultimately encouraging the importance of education to respond respectfully to the conflict.