By: Biran Falk-Dotan
I’ve been a student at McMaster for three years, and every year the same controversy comes up. One side claims that Israel is a tolerant and peaceful nation; the other side blames Israel for the oppression and deaths of Palestinians. Each year, The Silhouette publishes multiple Opinions articles on this issue. During my time at Mac, this issue and Boycott Divestment Sanctions dominated two MSU General Assemblies, taking precedence over matters that were immediately relevant to McMaster students. My claim is going to be unpopular with both sides: as students, we should focus on other things.
The Israel/Palestine problem is complicated. On one hand, many Palestinians live in poverty and suffer legitimate oppression, but on the other hand many of Israel’s actions are in response to a real security threat. Everyone agrees that there is a problem, but nobody can agree on the solution. Should it be a one-state or two-state solution? Should other states actively accept Palestinian refugees? The MSU has endorsed a boycott, but boycotts must have specific policy goals in order to be meaningful. We should acknowledge that there is no widely accepted solution.
Even if the solution were clear, the Israel/Palestine issue has no implications for the personal, social, or academic activities of McMaster students. Case in point: BDS passed last year, and what difference does that make to McMaster students? The only people affected are those who are now unable to buy certain products, and those whose relatives live in Israel/Palestine. Meanwhile, we have plenty of important issues on campus that are not getting enough attention. Tuition fees, mental health support, and campus accessibility are all relevant and important topics that are compromised by us shifting our limited attention to Israel/Palestine. As McMaster students, we should focus first and foremost on the issues that affect us and our communities.
“We can’t just do what is good for us,” you might object, “we need to address humanitarian issues around the world.” My response might surprise you: I agree. On average, a few hundred people die annually due to Israeli/Palestinian violence, and that is a reprehensible loss that I take very seriously. However, I think there are more pressing conflicts in the world.
For each Palestinian who dies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about 100 Syrians die in the Syrian civil war. China executes thousands of people every year, often for non-violent offenses. Over 3000 civilians have died in the Yemeni civil war in only a year. There are dozens of grievous human rights abuses around the world in states like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Ukraine, Iran, Ethiopia, Burundi, and others.
Each of these results in greater loss of life than in Israel/Palestine, yet these abuses receive little attention on campus. If we really want to improve the plight of oppressed peoples globally, then each of these problems should receive at least as much attention as Israel/Palestine.
In fact, if our aim is simply to save lives, military conflicts are not even among the chief concerns. In 2015, over 200 million people had malaria, and nearly half a million died of it, even though it is easily treatable. According to the World Health Organization, five million deaths (including 1.4 million child deaths) occur every year because of polluted drinking water. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, and it is also treatable and preventable. In fact, even in Israel/Palestine, more people die of car accidents each year than of military violence and terrorism combined. If our aim is to save lives, I think we need to start looking at the options most readily available to us. By investing in medicine for the poor, we can save more people with greater certainty, and without divisive debates.
If our aim is to save lives, I think we need to start looking at the options most readily available to us.
Every life is important and each life is equally valuable. For that reason, I think our humanitarian efforts should focus on situations in which we can save the most lives, and in that respect the Israel/Palestine argument is only distracting us from the worst problems and the problems we can effectively address. The McMaster community, including the MSU, should focus on issues that are relevant to McMaster students, not the issues where a few small groups of people have made lots of noise.
Photo Credit: Jon White/ Photo Editor