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Israeli-Palestinian conflict survivor speaks out at the Hillel Foundation

On Tuesday Nov. 10, students at the UA Hillel Foundation were able to receive a first-hand account of the attack and the violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

Five years ago, while working as a tour guide in Israel, Kay Wilson was stabbed 13 times after being abducted by Palestinian terrorists. While Wilson survived, her friend, Kristine Luken died from injuries sustained in the attack.

“The only crime of my friend, a Christian, was that they thought she was Jewish,” Wilson said, who herself is an British-born Israeli citizen.

For the past two months, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has continued to smolder in a series of spontaneous stabbings, random shootings and police crackdowns.

The bloodshed, which is only the most recent spate in a conflict that has lasted over a century, has permeated civilian life in Israel. The victims include Palestinian and Israeli security forces, innocent bystanders, parents and their children.

Wilson was vivid in her recounting of the violence and trauma she experienced, but her story was punctuated with humor.

“I lost so much in that half-hour, in that eternity of fear and pain,” Wilson said. “But I chose not to let fear and bitterness determine who I am.”

Wilson also did not shy away from making political claims about the brutal hatred that motivated the individuals who attacked her.

“The statement that this violence is because of the Israeli occupation is a misnomer, a distraction,” she said, referring to the territories Israel conquered in the 1967 war and annexed without international recognition. “The violence is another anti-Semitic pogrom, which the Jews have been the targets of for the last 2,000 years.”

But other commentators on the issue interpret the violence differently.

Wilson’s stance indicates one of multiple narratives that seek to explain the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians—with much of the blame being placed on the latter group. Other experts argue that the violence of Palestinians must be placed in a broader historical context of occupation.

“This is a particular spate of violence in the last few months, but it is still part of a larger historical event,” said Dr. Leila Hudson, a UA professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies.

In order to understand this historical conflict, Hudson said that a historical explanation that examines the Israeli occupation is required.

“There is a general cultural phenomenon associated with life under occupation,” she said. “It has to do with the feeling of growing up without political or civil rights, with only dubious recognition of your human rights and, at a practical level, very few possibilities for a productive or satisfying future,” Hudson said.

The psychological effect of this occupation, combined with a lack of basic economic guarantees and an exposure to violent rhetoric, is what can drive many young Palestinians to violence, Hudson said.
Asher Susser, Stein professor of modern Israel studies at the UA, also said that the intractability of the conflict is related to the diametrically opposed interpretations of Israel’s foundation.

“It’s a clash of historical narratives. On one hand, the Israelis see the creation of their state as a great historical justice—independence and sovereignty after centuries of repression and exclusion,” Susser said. “But on the other, many Palestinians see it as an intolerable injustice; they were not a part of the oppression of the Jews in Europe, and they don’t think they should take sacrifices for the creation of a new state.”

According to Susser, who is also professor emeritus of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University in Israel, blaming a single party for the violence is an oversimplification of the conflict.

“Both sides have profound cases. Israelis and Palestinians both want self-determination, sovereignty [and] independence,” he said. “It is incumbent on both parties to promote compromise and ease hostility. Too often, people are involved in a blame-game, which isn’t effective or helpful.”

Susser also stresses that in order to diffuse tensions, both sides need to focus on building trust through incremental changes.

“It’s too simple to say that all will be solved when everyone agrees on everything. To achieve bearable coexistence, we need to seek small breakthroughs on minor issues,” Susser said. “To reach a two-state solution, the Palestinians and Israelis must agree to share in the homeland they already share.”

Follow Isaac Rousenville on Twitter.

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