Professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po, Paris School of International Affairs Jean-Pierre Filiu stressed necessary measures that both Palestinians and Israelis should take in order to pacify current regional tensions at an event in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Boardroom Jan. 15. The lecture, which was hosted by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, focused on the recent escalation of tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv.
Filiu, who previously held visiting professorships at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, has written 10 books and served as a diplomatic advisor for various French government offices.
Filiu’s remarks centered on the ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians that intensified in the summer of 2014 when Hamas soldiers from the Gaza Strip exchanged rocket fire with Israeli military forces stationed at the border. According to Filiu, the recent conflict was the most devastating to the Gaza Strip and its residents, but it was neither unexpected nor unprecedented.
“On this very Friday, two Palestinian young adults were shot dead at the so-called ‘border’ between the Gaza Strip and Israel,” Filiu said. “According to the Israeli military sources they were provoking the Israeli military. This has become the new normal. … This is absolutely tragic.”
Filiu opened his remarks by saying that in order for one to understand how to resolve the current conflict — especially in the Gaza Strip — observers must understand the history of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has led up to this most recent confrontation.
“Gaza has been under this terrible military pressure from day one,” Filiu said. “[Gaza] is what is left once everything else has been taken.”
Filiu said that Israel has engaged in twelve wars against militants in the Gaza Strip, including the conflict in the summer of 2014.
“The Gaza Strip has been created through war, when the state of Israel was created, but Gaza was an oasis. It was a place where people met and traded,” Filiu said. “That was the whole function of Gaza for millennia.”
Filiu said that the effects of Israel’s violent exchanges with Gaza have converted the historically diverse and fertile region into a prison.
“It is the greatest open-air prison in the world, which is not an analogy I fully support, because I do not know many prisons when, during moments of riots, the wardens routinely shoot at the inmates,” Filiu said. “This is the case in Gaza.”
Filiu then traced the history of Gaza-Israel conflicts, including the context surrounding the creation of the Israeli state and the absorption of formerly Palestinian-claimed lands. Among the conflicts, he cited the first and second intifadas as the seventh and eighth wars respectively, and highlighted the implementation of the policies of closure after the first intifada.
Filiu also discussed a concept he coined ‘lawn mowing,’ an effort by Israel to occasionally intervene in Gaza to stifle resistance, as an embodiment of the decades of violence and tension.
The turning point in the ongoing conflict, according to Filiu, was in June 2007, when Hamas won legislative elections in Gaza. After the election, Israel declared Gaza a hostile entity and tensions have only risen since.
“Since then, no Israeli has entered Gaza, except in a tank,” Filiu said. “This means the people of Gaza only know Israelis for the wrong things — the killings.”
Filiu said there is a realistic possibility of Palestinian nationalist movements cooperating with the Islamic State group and Egyptian insurgents, potentially dragging Egypt into war and forcing Israel to intervene in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Israel going into Sinai would mean the end of the Camp David agreement,” Filiu said. “I would not like to live in that world.”
Filiu recommended an immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, both on the mainland and in the sea. A major point of contention between Palestinians and Israel has been an enforced fishing zone that limits the waters where fishermen can cast their nets.
“It is not something you do because you are nice. It is something you have to do to avoid catastrophe,” Filiu said. “The border should be opened tomorrow and a sea line opened at least to Cyprus.”
During the question-and-answer session following his address, Filiu expressed his support for a two-state solution.
“Palestinians need a flag and a passport. A two-state solution is the only way out and it is not an illusion,” Filiu said. “You don’t change the word ‘war’ because of casualties. War is war.”
Filiu said that he believes the next war between Israel and Palestinians will be far worse, just as each previous war has been worse than the one preceding.
“These people don’t need help,” he said. “They need freedom.”
Ari Shapiro (SFS ’18) said that Filiu’s remarks on the conflict’s background were insightful and informative, but he did not agree with some definitions and personal arguments.
“I generally really appreciated what the professor said about the issues and the history,” Shapiro said. “I disagree with his definitions of war and his definitions of Israeli wars.”
Elizabeth Bujwid (SFS ’18), who asked about the role the United States would play in facilitating dialogue between the two entities, said she enjoyed the discussion, finding Filiu’s critiques and observations on the ongoing dialogue welcome.
“It was really important to hear from an independent observer,” Bujwid said.
This article has been updated from its original version.
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