September 30, 2014

It started with a question.

After listening to a pro-Israeli speaker discuss the Israeli-Palenstinian conflict during instructor Harry Frick’s government class, Ryan Hallenbeck ’16 (Indianapolis) asked about the Palestinian perspective.

Frick suggested Hallenbeck contact the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame to see if a professor would be interested in discussing the Palestinian side of the conflict with the class. Hallenbeck was put in contact with Dr. Patrick Regan, a political science and peace studies professor who specializes in the Middle East.

Monday, Regan visited Culver Academies and Frick’s class to provide a different perspective on the conflict that, in some instances, can be traced through Biblical history as far as 5,000 years ago when the Jews were forced to leave the region. For the past 1,500 years – since 660 A.D. – the Muslims have controlled Palestine until 1948 when Israel was created.

The establishment of a Jewish state was in discussion among the world community for some time prior to the creation of Israel, he said, but the original location considered was in Argentina. Part of the reason it ended in the Middle East was the work of a Zionist militant group led by Mennachen Begin and Moshe Dayan that opposed British authority in the area. The Dec. 12, 1947 New York Times front page has a story about the group’s bombing of three locations that killed several civilians.

“They were what we would call terrorists today,” Regan said. Begin would later became the Israeli Prime Minister and Dayan served as the Defense Minister and Foreign Minister. Both helped negotiate the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1979.

While Israel celebrates May 15, 1948, as its independence day, it is called Nakbar (catastrophic day) by the Palestinians because that is when thousands were forced to leave their homes and villages after the new Zionist state was attacked. That forced scattering of this Arab population is referred to as a diaspora – when a large segment of a population is forced to leave its homeland. It is similar to the Irish potato famine, the slave trade, and Native Americans being forced off their lands, Regan said.

Dr. Patrick Regan discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with students in Harry Frick's government class. Culver photo/Jan Garrison

Dr. Patrick Regan discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with students in Harry Frick’s government class. Culver photo/Jan Garrison

Regan added that while the Jewish people were forced to leave Palestine, they were not displaced by the Palestinians, but it was the “Jews who displaced the Palestinians in 1948.” This forced removal not only created a lot of refugees, it created a lot of resentment. Regan said the angriest man he has ever met was a Palestinian who was displaced during this time.

Because of this history, the question is who has right to the land? Today, it is the victor who rules. The Gaza Strip and West Bank are controlled by Israel as a result of the conflict. That occupied territory comes with the normal restrictions on taxes, checkpoints, and social life. It comes down to whether it is considered an “occupation or exploitation,” he said.

Regan said he could bring sustainable peace to the region in “less than 10 minutes” if both sides would just adhere to the points already reached in earlier peace agreements like the Camp David Accords.

The 2000 Camp David agreement states that the Palestinians would officially recognize Israel as a sovereign state. But Israel refused to accept the agreement because officials believed the Palestinians would not live up to the other points.

The Palestinians will not give up their point on the right to return to their villages taken during the 1948 conflict, even though the people openly told him they would never go back since they are already established in their new areas. The reason why? “Maybe they (Israel) will give us a homeland,” he said.

This is why Regan said he is “really optimistic” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the sticking points holding back a sustaining peace are not as important as they were originally. He believes the “facts on the ground” point to a peaceful resolution.

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