With the conflict in Gaza escalating and bloodshed on the rise, Students for Justice in Palestine held a protest July 25 at the Federal Building in downtown San Diego. Hundreds of people also gathered recently at Doyle Park in University City to show solidarity and pray for peace.
Lenna Odeh, an Arab-Israeli and a UCSD Ph.D. candidate, has been literally raised in the Palestinian resistance movement. Her name in Arabic means “for us to return.” Odeh is active in numerous pro-Palestinian groups, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a global movement seeking Israel’s adherence to what BDS deems as international law supporting Palestinian rights.
Baruch Shalom Ezagui is rabbi of Chabad of La Jolla, at 909 Prospect St. Founded in Russia in 1775, “Chabad,” a branch of Orthodox Judaism, means “wisdom, understanding and knowledge.” Chabad has more than 3,600 institutions in more than 1,000 cities in 70 countries. Chabad Hasidic philosophy focuses on classical Judaic writings and Jewish mysticism, especially the Zohar and the Kabbalah.
Odeh and Ezagui have numerous relatives in Israel and the surrounding territories under dispute.
Describing Jewish treatment toward Palestinians as a “military occupation” and “apartheid,” Odeh said Palestinians worldwide are calling for an end to the land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Egypt and Israel, in effect since 2007.
“It’s being choked, strangled economically, socially, legally and politically,” said Odeh of her homeland, which she described as a “ghetto,” breeding an “intense hopelessness” among Arab-Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank. She described Palestinians as “refugees shoved into a much smaller space or exiled on the borders who are never allowed to become (Israeli) citizens.”
Characterizing Israel during its existence as “a diamond in a very rough neighborhood,” Ezagui said the country is “a great illustration of what is possible.”
Noting Israel has literally “risen from the ashes” in carving a homeland out of a barren waste, Ezagui said it’s easy to get lost in the “desert” of politics, which obscures the real “human” issues of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
“There will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate ours,” said Ezagui, quoting former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.
Ezagui said that instead of getting wrapped up in the endless intrigues of "realpolitik" in the Middle East, the world’s gaze instead should be redirected inward toward self-review and contemplation of the age-old conflict between good and evil.
“Both sides have the same focus: to make life better for everyone,” Ezagui said, noting that that focus has diverged into “those wanting to better the world and those wanting to drag the world backward.”
“There will be no peace in this world until we learn to love more than hate,” he said, adding everyone needs to “look in the mirror and ask: 'What am I doing to make my corner of the world a better and more peaceful place?'”
Concerning what needs to happen first to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Odeh said t that “the blockade must be lifted because people have the right to control their own land, water and air space.”
The native Palestinian noted the Israeli blockade contributes to Palestinian social stagnation, which promotes “people becoming fanatics who have to fight.”
Asked whether the Palestinian goal is statehood, Odeh replied: “The whole (political) structure has to be made anew. Israel can’t exist. Palestine can’t exist. It has to be a new creation, a bi-national state. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same spot where we began, and it will only get worse.”
Ezagui agreed that the ultimate goal ought to be unity — not division between the two peoples of Palestine as well as people the world over.
“The focus should be on uniting in a common cause to be citizens of the world,” he said, noting, “We all have the same aspirations.”