Professors share concern and hope after Mideast attacks

Omar Dajani of the McGeorge School of Law and Gary Gilbert of Claremont McKenna College

McGeorge School of Law Professor Omar Dajani and Professor Gary Gilbert of Claremont McKenna College discussed the tragedies in Israel and the Gaza Strip during a webinar on Oct. 17.

Two professors—one Palestinian-American, one Jewish, both with scholarly expertise in the history and politics of Israel-Palestine—shared their growing concern and continuing hope for the future in a virtual discussion sponsored by the McGeorge School of Law on Oct. 17.

Omar Dajani of the McGeorge School of Law and Gary Gilbert of Claremont McKenna College discussed the compounding tragedies in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the last two weeks, the broader history of conflict and the future. Dajani formerly served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team in peace talks with Israel. Gilbert has done extensive archeology work in Israel for 12 years.

McGeorge Assistant Dean Clemence Kucera moderated the discussion.

Uncertainty and fear have come in the wake of a bloody Oct. 7 attack in Israel. More than 1,300 Israeli citizens and military personnel were killed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The attacks were described as causing the largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, with thousands more injured or taken hostage. An estimated 3,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have died in Israel’s military response as of Oct. 17, according to Reuters, and hundreds and thousands have been displaced as a result of Israeli bombardment and evacuation orders.

While Gilbert and Dajani are resolute the sides must come together for lasting peace, they are concerned the violence will only escalate.

“In my view there is never justification for the killing of civilians,” said Dajani, co-director of McGeorge’s Global Center for Business & Development and a recognized expert on legal aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “My grief extends to Israeli citizens and to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank who lost their lives. It is truly alarming to see how quickly lives are being lost.”

Gilbert, associate professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, added: “I, like many American Jews, know people who were killed during the October 7th attacks. I am concerned the conflict will expand and Hamas rockets will find new targets … In my mind there is no justification for what happened that day.”

Gilbert is conflicted by immense anger and a strong desire for peace.

“I desperately want Israel to destroy Hamas, but that agenda could end up causing more harm than good,” Gilbert said. “My confusion is confounded further by not really knowing what the other options are.”

Dajani said he has multiple levels of anger.

“My anger extends to Hamas leadership for these attacks. And to Israel for the 75 years in which Palestinians have been dispossessed and disenfranchised. I dread where this is headed,” he said.

One of Dajani’s main fears is contagion—that the fighting will spread in the West Bank, Israel and the region more broadly.

“Both sides must work for peace because neither Jews nor Palestinians are going anywhere. We are bound together in this place,” he said. “And the sooner we internalize that fact, the better able we will be to live together. Each death that happens in the coming days will make it harder to work together going forward.”

Gilbert is concerned about expansion of the conflict and questions the role of militant groups in seeking peace.

“I agree with the vision Professor Dajani articulates,” he said. “But it is a vision that is incompatible with groups such as Hamas and extremists within Israel. The extremists are always going to be the ones trying to derail progress. That is the most frustrating aspect of this conflict.”

Dajani has spoken to several panels and media outlets since the attacks. In an interview with CNBC, he called for the United States to play a larger role in the quest for solutions.

“It is not enough for us to offer platitudes about the challenges that are presented. It is crucial that the international community demands action to ease the circumstances on the ground in Gaza,” Dajani told CNBC.

University of the Pacific President Christopher Callahan said it is essential for universities to discuss important and sensitive global issues such as these.

“We are grateful to have two exceptional scholars speak on these important issues,” he said. “They helped define the conflict and shared their outlooks for future progress in striving for peace.”