Campus Watch criticizes U. of Pennsylvania forum on Gaza

Historians in the News

On Wednesday February 11th, the Middle East Center and Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania co-sponsored a panel discussion entitled "War on Gaza: A Teach-in and Discussion with Penn Faculty and members of the Penn Community." It brought together academics and local activists to a forum for discussion and expression critical of the "Israeli Occupation," to paraphrase Ania Loomba, the panel's chairman and a Penn English professor.

The event attracted a large crowd of students and members of the Philadelphia community, with many sitting on the floor and standing for the entire event, which lasted over two hours. The doors to the outside remained open to provide ventilation for the overcrowded room; not only did passing sirens blare, but a dog wandered into the room off the street, lending the event a fleeting hilarity in light of the topic being discussed.

The first speaker, history professor Lawrence Davidson of West Chester University, charged—without citing any supporting evidence—that Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 were planned in mid-2007 in order to "[destroy] the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) militant rivals there [i.e. Hamas], and eventually bring it under the a PNA cooperating with Israel."

After Israel had installed its PNA "proxy" in Gaza, Davidson asserted that it "might [re-introduce]…its colonists" to the area. He continued with a conspiratorial reading of Israel's 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which involved the complete withdrawal of military force and forced removal of settler communities: "It seemed wise to get the colonists who were there out of the area, as their evacuation would allow the entire strip to be turned into a free fire zone."

Staying the course, Davidson blamed Israel for Palestinian violence: "Whatever Palestinian violence Israel suffers is the reaction…to conditions that…the Israelis themselves have created." Utterly ignoring Israel's efforts at negotiating a peace settlement over the past 20 years, Davidson blamed Israel for the failure of the peace process: "Since 1988 the PLO has been seeking to negotiate a two state solution…but the Israelis never intend to allow any of these sorts of compromises. To do so means abandoning their colonization projects, which are worth more to them than peace."

In a discussion of the Israeli air and sea blockade of Gaza, Davidson trivialized the murder of 10 Israelis (9 of whom were civilians) in 2008 by Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza: "Hamas responded to this situation by increasing the number of…rockets fired into Israel….These did little damage but were symbolic acts of resistance."

When a student critical of Davidson asked a question and commented, "Every death, I feel…doesn't matter Israeli or Palestinian, every death is terrible and it pains me when I read about it," Davidson interrupted the student and yelled, "How seriously?" This outburst drew even the ire of his fellow panelists, who turned to Davidson with looks of shock on their faces....

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