UC Berkeley Debate

Alison Weir’s Opening Statement

This statement was delivered by Alison Weir in a debate on “How Can Peace Be Achieved Between Israelis and Palestinians?” on the UC Berkeley campus, October 2, 2003. Early the following morning If Americans Knew received a death threat on their voicemail.

(Watch video from the debate here.)

Let me begin by emphasizing that I have no reason to take a “side” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am not Muslim, I am not Jewish, I have no Middle Eastern heritage or family connections. But for the last 3 years I have spent most of my waking hours studying this urgent issue. Let me share with you my findings.

People often call the Israeli-Palestinian issue “complicated.” It is not.

The central problem is quite straight forward: a little over fifty years ago 3/4 of an entire population was expelled from its land to make way for an ethnically discriminatory state. And this process is still going on. Palestinians are being continuously and violently dispossessed because of one original sin: inhabiting land that others wanted—exclusively.

A brief history:

In the late 1800s a group of people known as Zionists began moving to Palestine with the avowed intention of creating a Jewish state—a benign enough goal, except for one problem: The land was already occupied, and 95 percent of the population was not Jewish—it was Muslim and Christian.

But wait, what about the famous slogan, “A land without people for a people without land”? This was, it turns out, one of the most cruelly calculated examples of fallacious advertising the world has known.

Let me quote a less famous statement by the author of that shining slogan, Israel Zangwel, this one a bit different: “[We] must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population....” (1905)

Another Zionist leader wrote:

“Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. ....” “There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries—all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.”

In 1948 this massive ethnic cleansing was accomplished, in Israel’s War of Independence. By its end, most of the original inhabitants were gone. Thousands died in massacres, battles, and, finally, hardship from the brutal exodus of an entire population fleeing for its life—children dying along the roadsides.

Those who survived were scattered in refugee camps, in Gaza, Jenin, Jordan, Lebanon. Where they waited to return home, as they were sure they would. After all, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The UN mediator at the time wrote: “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine.”

Yet that is precisely what happened, year after year.

In 1967 there was a second onslaught. Israel dispossessed still more Palestinians, as it captured Gaza, the West Bank, and Golan Heights. Another 200,000 Palestinians were made refugees, some for the second time. But this time, most stayed. And for 35 years they have lived under military occupation, as more and more of their land is confiscated for Jewish-only towns.

With this second conquest, Israel’s dilemma became acute. It has captured the land, but does not want the people—most are Muslims, many are Christians living in Bethlehem and its surroundings, where their religion was born 2,000 years earlier. And now, these people are once again rebelling against Israeli rule. What is to be done?

There have been numerous proposals attempting to address this conflict; Geneva conferences, the Mitchell Plan, Oslo agreements—going back over fifty years. In reading the history of this conflict one finds proposal after proposal, agreement after agreement.

All failures. Why?

Because peace requires compromise, compromise requires motivation, and motivation is virtually non-existent in any side that feels it has infinite power to impose its will. And Israel possesses such power.

Let us examine the current situation:

In the winter of 2001 I spent a month in the Palestinian Territories. I went alone and independently, as a freelance journalist, to learn for myself what was going on.

Let me give you a hint of what you see when you go to the Palestinian Territories. You see bombed out neighborhoods, buildings in ruins, entire residential blocks destroyed. You see children who have been shot in the back, in the stomach, in the head. You see ancient olive groves laid to waste, entire communities devastated. And as you look around at this profound devastation, you experience an odd kind of epiphany. You realize that this is truly a war zone—much like old photos of WWII Europe—but it occurs to you that this is a war zone in which only one side has an army.

A war zone in which, on one side—the Israeli side—there is the fifth most powerful military on earth—far more powerful than all the other militaries in the region, combined—a military equipped with the most lethal weaponry available—nuclear weapons, F-16s, helicopter gunships, high velocity rifles fitted with precision sniper scopes that enable them to be aimed, with chilling accuracy, at heads, hearts, necks. Or—when injuries are preferred—these, unlike deaths, are never quantified in the American press—the targets may be thigh bones, bellies, eyes.

On the other side of this “war” (if you can call it that) you find a population possessing small quantities of home-made mortars, Molotov cocktails, rifles, hand weapons, stones.... a population whose only means to deliver a bomb is to strap it to one’s self and deliver it in person.

Let us look at some of the cruel statistics of this conflict.. Since it is my deeply held belief that ALL human beings, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity, are of equal worth, their deaths equally tragic, let us gather information on BOTH sides.

How many civilians have been killed since the current uprising began?

608 Israelis; 2,221 Palestinians

How many children have been killed?

101 Israelis, 463 Palestinians

How many people have been injured?

5,887 Israelis and 23,646 Palestinians.... 6 times more Palestinians

How many homes have been destroyed.

One Israeli home and 2,202 Palestinian ones..

Many Americans are led to believe that Israel is constantly retaliating against Palestinian violence.

The chronology, however, tells a different story. 140 Palestinians were killed BEFORE the first Jewish citizen of Israel; 84 Palestinian children were killed, BEFORE the first Israeli child was killed. The largest single cause of death of these Palestinian children was “gunfire to the head.”

How many are held prisoner by the other side?

No Israelis. 15,000 Palestinians in all, 6,000 of whom remain in prison, including 350 children. How are they treated? Are lawyers, their families, the Red Cross allowed to visit them? Rarely.

Is their imprisonment in accord with international law? According to reports from Amnesty International, Defense of Children International, and the US State Department, they are not. They are beaten, kept in solitary confinement, fed poorly and irregularly, shackled in contorted positions, naked, with fetid sacks over their heads—as described in Foreign Service Journal.

The power differential between Israelis and Palestinians is gargantuan, causing Israeli leaders to believe they have no need to compromise, that justice is irrelevant, that the state can simply crush its opponents.

Israel, it is believed, holds all the cards, so why give up anything?

But does Israel hold all the cards? Israel has a population the size of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Where does it derive its capacity to maintain one of the most powerful mega-militaries on earth?

From us. From me and from you. Israel’s enormous might is not of its own making, but is a gift from an American public that is largely un-informed of its own immense, irrational, and extremely self-destructive generosity.

At a time when our schools are under-funded, when our families are increasingly stretched, American citizens send over $10 million per day to Israel... more than to any other nation on earth—more than to all of sub-Saharan Africa—put together. And the quantity only goes up.

In the final analysis, then, it is we who possess the power in this three-way relationship. Which means that we are the ones who can and must bring peace to this region.

When the sleeping giant in this conflict—the American public—finally wakes up ... when we realize that it is our tax money that is preventing peace—and that is increasingly placing us at risk, that we have great and unmet needs at home, that we are financing war crimes that we would be horrified even to see, let alone pay for.. then, finally, American taxpayers will decide to keep this critical money home.

And then, when Israeli leaders realize that they can no longer “go to the bank”—as they call us—whenever they want more money; when they realize that they must maintain, on their own, their apartheid system—in the midst of a region composed of the ethnicities against whom they are discriminating—then the Israeli leadership will for the first time be motivated to make the real and just compromises that peace requires.

And then, and only then, the steps necessary for peace will be taken.


[Follow-up information]

Many Israelis of all ages and backgrounds have long been calling for these steps. High school students have signed statements refusing to serve in the military when they come of age. Soldiers—now over 1,000—have refused. Most recently, high-ranking air force officers are refusing any longer to bomb civilians.


Captain (res.) Ido Landau has been jailed for refusing to escort operatives of the Shabak (security police) in the occupied territories.

At his trial, Landau made the following declaration: “In progress in the occupied territories is a war of repression entirely subservient to the ideology of the settlement drive. The Palestinian population is being subjected to starvation, denial of medical treatment, demolition of homes and economic strangulation. I will take no part in these war crimes, nor will I serve as a fig leaf for them.

The Times (of London)

SIXTY-TWO Israeli high school students refused yesterday to do military service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, accusing their Government of aggressive and racist policies towards Palestinians.

In an open letter to Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, the teenagers, who face two weeks in jail if they refuse when conscripted at 18, said that their consciences prevented them from taking part in oppression.

“Land expropriation, arrests, executions without trial, house demolition, closure, torture and the prevention of healthcare are only some of the crimes the state of Israel carries out,” they said. “We do not intend to take part in the execution of this policy.”


“We, who were raised to love the state of Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in Air Force attacks on civilian populations centers... refuse to continue to harm innocent civilians... These actions are illegal and immoral, and are a direct result of the ongoing occupation which is corrupting all of Israeli society. Perpetuation of the occupation is fatally harming the security of the state of Israel and its moral strength.”


* “The ‘sterile’ Jewish space created by the State of Israel is a ghetto for its Jewish residents as well. It prevents them from integrating into the Middle East. Nobody is safe in this space—neither Jews nor Arabs.”

- Yair Khilou (CounterPunch)

More on the Death Threat

Listen to the Death Threat (mp3)

Listen to the Death Threat on Youtube
Starts at 0:30

Read Transcript of the Threat

"Close your organization or die..."
"Ferme ton organisation sinon tu vas mourir"

Alison Weir’s Debate Opening Statement

Featured Links in This Section

Order, Print, or Download Educational Materials

Upcoming Events

If Americans Knew Receives Death Threat

Articles by Alison Weir

Make a Donation

Get Involved – Contact Us

Stay Informed

Sign up for our mailing list and receive an email whenever we post a new article on our news site, Israel-Palestine News.

This website is printer-friendly. Please Print this article and share it with your friends and family.