Palestine 1948 at the University of Virginia

On Saturday, I was delighted to attend the first two sessions of a half-day conference held at the University of Virginia on the topic ‘1948 in Palestine.’ The main speakers at those sessions were Susan Akram of Boston University Law School and Rochelle Davis of Georgetown University.
Both those sessions were really thought-provoking. Susan Akram presented a smart and thoughtful set of comments based on the recent essay in Jadaliyya in which she compared the international-law strategy pursued by the PLO over the years highly unfavorably with that pursued by SWAPO and its allies in an earlier era. Bill the spouse was the commentator for that. Rochelle Davis then gave a lovely presentation based on her recent book about “Palestinian Village Histories”, and someone from UVA Jewish Studies called Gabriel Finder was the commentator for that one.
What was equally notable to the high quality of both of these discussions was, for me, simply the fact of the open-ness of this corner of American academe to discussing this whole issue of 1948 in such an open-minded way.
These days, dealing with the still-unresolved issues of 1948 is moving back to being an inescapably central part of the whole quest to find a workable and equality-based formula for the longterm coexistence of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, whether in two states or one. For several years in an earlier era– perhaps up to 1999 or 2000; or possibly, even later than that?– it seemed to many people around the world that dealing only with the issues of 1967 (primarily, ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that Israel initiated in that year) would be sufficient and/or workable, while the issues from 1948 (primarily, the question of that large portion of Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed from the area-that-became-Israel that year) could somehow be sidestepped, swept under the rug, or finessed in one way or another.
For many Israelis, however, even trying to discuss the question of the Palestinian refugees as being bearers of rights is still seen as anathema, or as an attempt to “delegitimize Israel”, or whatever… and the same is true of the many pro-Israeli watchdogs and discourse-suppression organizations in the U.S. media and the U.S. academy.
That’s why I found it particularly refreshing to hear of this symposium, which was organized by Alon Confino, a distinguished Israeli-American professor in the UVA history department. I wish I had the time to write more about the discussions. (Maybe they’ll be published some day by Confino and his department?) In the meantime, though, I urge JWN readers to go read Susan Akram’s piece on Jadaliyya and Rochelle Davis’s book…

7 thoughts on “Palestine 1948 at the University of Virginia”

  1. This conference was especially welcome, as you say, because of the dismal record in the USA of suppression of discussion of the facts of 1948 and of the putative legal rights of Palestinian refugees (merely putative, so far, because of USA’s suppression of international law where Israel is concerned).
    Following Susan Akram’s criticism of Palestinian diplomacy (1948-2010), my guess would be that many people were fooled into believing that the USA would be a nobler, more rights-preserving, more humanitarian country than South Africa (for instance) was, and than the USA has turned out.
    USA’s window dressing is fooling no-one today.

  2. to my viewpoint and with respect to deep cultural differences, one state-solution as happened in South Africa sounds an ideal and far from reality but two state-solution could be reasonable and most workable because of deeply rooted hostility between both nations.

  3. Helena,
    Thank you for sharing this important and encouraging report.
    I say encouraging and important for three reasons:
    1. Finally, the issue of 1948 is being discussed in the US. Hopefully, what began at UV will not end at UV.
    2. The issue of Israel/Palestine cannot be discussed without discussing the issue of 1948.
    3. A just settlement for both Israelis and Palestinians cannot be achieved without settling the issue of 1948.

    Netanyahu’s government is now determined to punish five million Palestinians for daring to join the cultural department of the United Nations.
    Bolstered by hugely profitable trade with the EU, nuclear-armed submarines from Germany and US$3billion in arms from America, Netanyahu now feels powerful enough to push an entire nation of Palestinians into economic ruin and starvation whilst extending illegal settlements in the West Bank in violation of UN directives. Meanwhile illegal evictions of Arab families in East Jerusalem continues unabated.
    How much longer will the international community, in particular the EU, wait and watch as Netanyahu’s government becomes ever more powerful and contemptuous as it treats the UN, international law, the IAEA and the world with utter derision? This is the path to a disastrous, bloody war in the Middle East that could engulf Europe, if no action is taken to curb this aggression.

  5. thanks helena,
    there just seems to be something in the air lately. maybe it partly has to do with the latest neocon press hysteria leading up to the IAEA vs the sucking sound the day after. but it just feels like there’s an opening for opportunity, not just the UN..but it feels like palestine’s time is coming. i don’t think this is just wishful thinking on my part…there’s a readiness.

  6. Just the other day I attended a lecture by Dr. Colin Shindler, from the London SOAS. He was also selling his “History of Israel”, the translation of which into the local language was financed by the local Israel Embassy, which fact should alert anyone to its content. His lecture started out with the statement that the first Jewish settlements were built on “empty land”! And it went downhill from there, every ziotrope was trotted out. My most favorite one was that North Korea is helping the Palestinians plan and build tunnels. I kid you not.
    I went to the lecture because the prof. was from the London SOAS, a school known for its scholarly approach to the Middle East. Frankly, I find it difficult to understand how the SOAS can continue to claim intellectual honesty when they are willing to hire, and let loose upon unsuspecting Europe, crazy Zionists like Colin Shindler.

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