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The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

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The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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Q + A with Peace Activist David Dean Shulman

Find an Editor’s Note from Polygon Staff at the End of the Page


David Dean Shulman is a peace activist living in Jerusalem who has been active along the West Bank. He has written 20 books, including his book Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine. He is also a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian movement Ta’ayush, which supports Palestinians living in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. The Polygon interviewed him on November 19 by Zoom. This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity purposes. 



How have your personal experiences influenced your perspectives on what’s going on right now? 


We’re in the middle of a war. It’s a very hard and cruel war with a lot of casualties. And it began with this truly awful, horrific, inhumane attack on October 7, when Hamas massacred over a thousand people. It’s true to say that the whole population of Israel had a sense of everyday security, that life is going to be livable —that’s been shattered. And I think everybody feels this grim sense of insecurity, not knowing what’s going to happen. The hostages, 240 hostages, are in what is undoubtedly a nightmare for them and their families. So there’s a sense of depression or even despair. I hate war. I was in a war in Lebanon in 1982. I know what it’s like. And I hate it, but I understand why Israel had to go into Gaza. I hope very much that somehow within maybe some weeks the worst of it will be over. 


But you know what really troubles me? The worst part of all this, for me, is the notion that even if we succeed in Gaza and manage to destroy Hamas and bring down their government so that they will not be there in Gaza anymore, I’m really afraid we will go back to where we were before the war. And what that means for me is more of the occupation, more Israeli settlements in [occupied territory], more attempts at annexation, more violence towards innocent Palestinians in the territories, more anti-democratic legislation put forward by the government, more racism. If we were really lucky, after the war is over, the Americans would probably put forward a peace program, and it will be a regional peace program, not just Israel and Palestine but also all of the moderate Arab states: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Tunisia, Morocco.


In other words, it’ll be a regional settlement. It will include a settlement of the Palestinian issue, which Israel has resisted tooth and nail for several decades. Once the threat from Gaza is over, a good resolution would be a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, which will also include an end to the occupation and the withdrawal by Israel to some kind of border that is close to the old pre-1967 border. So that’s what’s at stake here. I’m not terribly hopeful that that’s what’s going to happen, but I think it could happen. 


How would you like to see publications and other forms of media portraying the conflict?


There are several things that are really important to be said and to be said clearly. One is that Israel went to war because of this horrific massacre. And I suppose that there was no choice. They had to go into Gaza, and that’s number one. 

Number two. None of this is worth doing if at the end they don’t try to make peace in a serious way. 

Number three, in the meanwhile, we are facing an emergency in the territories — “we” meaning the activists who work with shepherds, peasants, Palestinian farmers who are just ordinary people, peaceful people. What we are seeing are continuous, very violent attacks on these Palestinian communities by Israeli settlers often backed up by soldiers from the Israeli army. We’re not talking about all the settlers on the West Bank. We’re talking about a small minority of them. But these are people who are committed to a kind of apocalyptic and messianic ideology; they want to rid the entire West Bank and really, all of the land between the Jordan River and the sea of anybody who is not Jewish. That means expelling innocent Palestinian populations and communities from their lands. The settlers come in with guns and tell them that they have to leave within 24 hours or else the settlers will come back and shoot them. They break everything breakable, they burn houses and cars and beat up everybody they can find. So it’s important to mention that and to say that we really need help to put an end to this. 

That’s where people in America can play a role. You can reach out to the President. You can write to the Secretary of State. You can write to your congressman and tell [them] to make the Israelis stop this long-term settler violence in the Palestinian West Bank. It’s really important. Lives are at stake. 


Our school has been trying to educate students about what’s going on. We’ve had emails from the history department and administration as well as info sessions. How would you frame the conflict and the war that’s going on for students? 


It’s a very complicated solution and there’s been a huge amount of violence and suffering by both sides over the years. But I think you have to take a long-term view. You know, this has gone on now for more than 100 years. There are two ethnic peoples in this same small little country, which is like the size of the state of Delaware. There are Palestinians and there are Jews. In theory each group would like to have control of the entirety of the land. But it’s impossible for either of them to do that. They’re going to have to find a way to live together, because the Palestinians are not going to go away and neither are the Israelis. You can’t have a situation where one of the populations, that is, the Israeli Jews, have all the privileges and the rights as citizens in a democracy like in America — all the basic human rights you take for granted living in America. By the way, you shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re precious. You may have to fight for them. 


Nobody’s going anywhere. They’re all here to stay. They all have rights to this country. They have a historic connection that goes back thousands of years. So we can go on killing one another. I mean, that’s what we’ve been doing on and off for the last hundred years. There’s some kind of peaceful interlude from time to time, sometimes long intervals but sooner or later, it breaks out into a war. We need the Palestinians on their side to be prepared to make a real settlement, and to pay the price for it. And we need the Israelis to understand that there are Palestinians who also have rights and who deserve equality. It doesn’t look like that’s really close to reality at the moment with this terrible war going on. There’s a fear that the war will spread to the North. I know from experience in war, each side dehumanizes the other — otherwise you can’t kill people. So now within Israel and within the Palestinian area, there’s a lot of that. That’ll pass, I think, when the war actually ends. And that’s the moment where I have to hope that the two peoples will come together.


 There’s a group called Combatants For Peace. Let’s say you have 100 people in the room. Half of them are going to be Israelis who have all come out of the army in one way or another, and the other half will be Palestinians who were usually in one of the organizations, maybe the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) or Fatah or something like that. And they’ve come together because somehow they have a sense that this has to change, that this violent reality is unworkable and it’s going to end up destroying everything, all of us. If you go to one of those meetings, for the first hour or two, there’s usually a lot of acrimonious and bitter accusations of one another. The Palestinians say “Look what you’ve done to us, look what you’re doing to us.” And the Jews will say, “Well, look what you’ve done to us. Look at the terrorism and the attacks, look at the wars.” And then at some point, somebody, usually on the Israeli side, says “I get it, we have caused your people a lot of suffering.” Something like that. And as soon as that has been said, the atmosphere changes. And suddenly  these one hundred people are able to truly communicate with one another, really beginning to like one another. 

I’ve seen it happen many times. It’s extremely moving. So if it can happen to 100 people in a room like that, that is what has to happen on the much larger scale of millions of people; they won’t be in the same room, but they’re living in the same land. And I think it’s still the case even now, that the majority on both sides wants peace. We can spend a lot of time, many hours, weeks or months reviewing all the horrible things that we have done to one another, and there’s no lack of them, but if we want to take a look toward the future and believe that human beings are capable of overcoming their fears and their hatred and their prejudices, you know, if we believe that, then there’s hope for peace. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it. I used to think I would live to see it. I’m not so sure now, but someday maybe my grandchildren will see it. I hope so.


Editor’s Note

The Polygon acknowledges the complexity of the Israel-Hamas war and the history of conflict within the region, as well as the impact this conflict has around the world and within the Poly community. We seek to publish stories that add context, information, and different opinions to our understanding of the conflict, including this Q&A with peace activist David Dean Shulman. We believe that Shulman’s words will deepen our readers’ understanding of the conflict by providing them with the valuable perspective of someone experiencing it firsthand. 

Because of the sensitivity and importance of this topic, we deliberated for nearly two months about how best to publish this Q&A. Ultimately, we decided to publish it in our Opinions section, rather than News, because although it covers a current global issue, it is the opinion of one individual rather than a story with background information and multiple perspectives. To further our coverage of the conflict, we invite any member of the community to contribute their perspective to the opinions section. 

Our job as journalists is to ensure that everything we publish is fact-checked to the best of our ability. Multiple members of our editorial staff reviewed all of the facts Shulman presented to ensure that they are accurate by checking a variety of news and historical sources. 

We encourage all everyone reading this Q&A to think critically about the opinion Shulman articulates. In our fact checking process, we compiled resources that contextualized Shulman’s words. We have included links to three of the most informative resources in QR codes below. Additionally, we suggest reviewing the resources that Mr. Sivin and his War Victims SLT compiled for the Poly community, sent out in an email on Thursday, December 7. We hope that these resources will provide our readers with context and other perspectives to facilitate this critical thinking.

We welcome any member of our community to respond to a published opinion or the Polygon’s reporting by sending a letter to the editor or a comment to [email protected].


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About the Contributors
Jess Dosik
Jess Dosik, Editor-in-Chief
Jess Dosik is the current Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Polygon and she is currently a senior. She began her career on the Polygon in her freshman year as a staff writer, and then went on to become the News Editor during her Junior year. Her favorite articles to write have been large in-depth news stories on a range of topics, her favorite being her story on the history of Co-Education at Poly. She also enjoys writing profiles on people and learning m about other people's unique stories and experiences. Apart from the Polygon, Jess has written for an outside journalism publication. She is also a musician in the advanced concert band, a peer tutor, president of medical club, a blue key ambassador, and more! 
William Ling-Regan
William Ling-Regan, Opinions Editor
Throughout his time at the Polygon, William has served as the Photography Editor, the Features Editor, and, this year, as the Opinions Editor. He has enjoyed writing articles about everything from changes to Poly’s motto to the quails raised at the Lower School, but his favorite is the advice column he co-writes, the Devil’s Advocate. In addition to being a Polygon editor, William co-leads History Club, Student Service Board, Asia Society, the Crew Team, and Blue Key, and is a Vice President of Model UN and a peer tutor. Outside of school, William enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with his friends and family.

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