Professor Emeritus Neil Hertz spoke Friday about his experiences in the West Bank, which he detailed in his recently published book, Pastoral in Palestine.
Hertz’s presentation, held in Gilman Hall and sponsored by Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine (HSJP), focused on everyday life in Ramallah and at the Al Quds Bard Honors College — a collaborative program between Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and Al Quds University in Abu Dis — where he taught in 2011 and earlier this year.
“No one I’ve talked to among my Israeli and Palestinian friends have any hope for a solution,” Hertz said.
Hertz also used personal photos in his presentation to show examples of discrimination against Palestinians.
“It was refreshing [because] it’s an opinion you rarely hear in the States and it’s rarely portrayed in the media in general,” freshman Muhammed Hudhud said.
“It was interesting to hear his perspective on the issue,” Jennifer Ferentz, president of Hopkins J Street U, which advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said. “Broadening the conversation on campus surrounding this issue is a good thing.”
The lecture was the first HSJP event of the 2013-2014 academic year. According to the organization’s website, the HSJP plans to host more speakers like Hertz to “attempt to visualize the Palestinian struggle.”
“It’s one of these situations where sometimes it’s hard being able to see a way to move forward and that’s why we’re trying to bring more of a discussion to the campus,” HSJP founding member and medical research assistant Kristina Hallez said. “If [we] can have more of a debate and bring more sides of the story to a broader audience, maybe we can actually have more considerations about possibilities [for the future].”
“It’s important for him to share his own experiences [in order to] move a little bit away from discourse of two or three or five states and geopolitical considerations and to think about what life might be like,” Paul Kohlbry, a graduate student and HSJP faculty adviser, said.
Hertz said that one of the gravest consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the lack of substantive interaction between Israeli and Palestinian citizens.
“When I was in Palestine, I kept seeing things that reminded me of Baltimore,” Hertz said. “Some of the relations between the Israeli and the Palestinian populations echoed some of the things I had seen between the white and black populations here.”
Hertz read excerpts from his book, where he recounted conversations with his neighbors about the murder of a Jewish family in Itamar, an Israeli community in the West Bank that Palestinian allies and others in the international community consider an illegal settlement.
“The Israeli government’s response was to immediately approve the building of 500 more housing units on the West Bank,” Hertz said. “This was drearily predictable, but so, I discovered, was [the neighbor’s] response: what about all the children the Israelis had killed in Gaza?...[Another man said] one of the killers was a man whose son had been shot by settlers two or three years ago. . .Had I challenged this report, I would have been asked what difference it made whether it was actually this man’s son or some other man’s son. Victims are interchangeable units in the prevailing local calculus: it’s not this eye for that eye, but any eye for any eye, any tooth, any arm, any child.”
Hertz said that a lack of constructive, friendly interaction between Israeli and Palestinian civilians contributes to hostile impressions of the opposing side in each respective community.
“The effect of the separation of the two communities is that many Israelis have never seen a Palestinian other than a taxi driver or a construction worker,” Hertz said.
Hertz also believes that the American Jewish diaspora’s lack of awareness of conditions in the West Bank contributes to the conflict, citing Peter Beinart’s article, “The American Jewish Cocoon,” from the Sept. 26 issue of The New York Review of Books.
“The effect of the [Jewish community’s] imagined intensity of the conflict is keeping people from knowing what life in Palestine is like,” Hertz said.
Hertz also spoke at length about the dysfunction of the Palestinian educational system, which he believes is one of the most challenging issues facing West Bank residents.
“The educational structure under the Palestinian authorities is dreadful,” he said. “It’s worth having non-Israeli, non-Palestinian teachers on the West Bank to make a serious change in the Palestinian public education system. It’s an admirable endeavor that will take a long time to catch on.”
“Kids have to be very energetic and want to learn English to be able to write well,” Hertz added. “There are lots of obstacles [because] there is an ingrown hierarchy within the Palestinian educational system.”
Hertz said that his most successful students had either lived and attended school in the United States or attended parochial schools, both in the West Bank and across the border in Israel proper.
“One of the reasons that Bard went [to Al-Quds] was to produce a different mode of elementary and secondary education,” Hertz said. “They felt that they needed to introduce into Palestine the entire notion of the curriculum, the notion of how to conduct a class in conversation rather than in rote memory.”
Although no pro-Israel representatives from campus Jewish organizations contested Hertz’s arguments during his presentation or his Q&A session, he did face criticism from an audience member who objected to his unflattering description of the Israel Defense Force’s security procedures on the border between the West Bank and Israeli territory.
Hertz also faced criticism from an audience member who took offense to his use of the term “Arab” when speaking about Palestinian people.
“The comments he made throughout the presentation definitely represented his political opinion, something that people are bound to disagree with,” Ferentz said.