A Tuesday evening event took students away from their everyday, campus lives to a contested international relationship: the Israeli-Palesitnian conflict. The event, co-sponsored by USC’s Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace-LA and the Levantine Culture Center, featured author and activist Miko Peled, an outspoken critic of Zionism and a firm proponent of peace in the war-ridden region.
Peled, author of the groundbreaking memoir The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, remains an outspoken advocate of the unitary state solution, which supports a secular democracy in which Israelis and Palestinians live as equals.
The discussion began with an introduction by moderator Jordan Elgrably, an Arab-Jewish cultural diplomat and director of the Levantine Cultural Center, who dismissed the age-old stereotypes of the region.
“One of the main motivations I have is to impart more cultural literacy in the Middle East,” Elgrably said. “It’s a diverse, interesting place. Not everyone is a crazy settler or a frothing-at-the-mouth Zionist.”
Peled, however, asked audience members if they believed that peace would be achievable in their lifetime. Most answered no.
“I’m 50 years old,” Peled said. “And there’s no question that there will be peace in my lifetime.”
To Peled, American understanding of the conflict is crucial, particularly given the United States’ close relationship with Israel.
“Americans are probably the least informed people on this issue, and they spend the most money on it,” he said. “You would think if you give so much money to an issue, you might want to be informed; $3 billion a year is a lot of money.”
Peled recounted the history of the conflict, dating back to November 1947.
Though highly critical of Israel, Peled ultimately ended on a somber note, speaking about the death of his young niece who died as a result of two suicide bombers.
To Peled, the violence that led to his niece’s death was brought on by the desperation the conflict perpetuates.
“These two young men were brought to such a level of despair and hopelessness that they took their own lives and the lives of innocent Israelis,” he said. “The brutality of the occupation is what brought these people to such a level of despair that they did this — and that has to stop.”
To Peled, peace can only be achieved when Israel becomes a secular democracy, similar to other multinational countries.
“You can’t have a Jewish state when half the population isn’t Jewish and call it a democracy,” he said. “Israelis and Palestinians don’t have to live like this. It can be done, but the name of the game has to be equal rights.”
In closing, Peled highlighted that this conflict is one that can be ended in the same way it was created — by people.
“The reality in Israel and Palestine was created by people,” Peled said. “It can be changed by people.”