Viewers of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart may remember watching a controversial interview last week in which two guests, experts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, were featured in discussion with the host. TV viewers may also remember the American guest, Anna Baltzer who seemed to receive less air time than her Palestinian counterpart. The soft-spoken guest made up for this to Waterloo students and residents on October 29 when she gave a talk on campus the day following her TV appearance in New York.
Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine, made her Waterloo appearance on October 29 in the EV 2 building to a receptive audience made up primarily – though not entirely – of students. Her expertise on the issue of Israel and Palestine comes from time spent living amongst and interacting with Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Due to this, her talk did not focus on academic solutions but more on illustrating the ground realities for individuals who may have no first-hand interaction with the issue. Much of her emphases was on what life is like for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as why most of the information citizens receive in the West is not entirely accurate.
Baltzer was certainly not afraid to mince words during her presentation. Although she is Jewish, her talk to Waterloo residents did not shy away from discussing the realities on the ground for both Palestinian and Israeli citizens. According to Baltzer, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is actually harmful to Israel’s own security. Baltzer went further on to say that this human rights issue can be compared to South African apartheid. This speech was at all times respectful. Baltzer began by stressing something often forgotten: occupation is not a Jewish phenomenon, and by definition, discussion of it is not anti-Semitic.
This remained the theme, as she opened a frank discussion on the motivations and realities for citizens of both Israel and Palestine. From her speech, the primary goal was to re-educate people on Palestine and move them away from the traditional mindset towards the conflict. Absent were images of violence, terror, and political upheavel. Instead, Baltzer presented images of the everyday struggle for Palestinians who may have no involvement in the sensational images coming through TV sets. Life for both Israelis and Palestinians is not the constant violent struggle which many view it as, but rather a daily struggle against fear and oppression.
Here, she demonstrated an understanding of the concerns of both sides. As a Jew who has visited Israel herself, she was well aware that for many Israelis, while peace is desirable, there is still a fear of change out of concern for self-preservation. However, while she demonstrated she understood this, Baltzer also believes that many of the steps taken by Israel are not defensive by nature, but rather direct provocations of Palestinians. Baltzer criticized actions such as denying Palestinians their water-supply, supporting Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the maintenance of overly harsh road blocks. All of these she believes are themselves road blocks to peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Baltzer illustrated how she earned her appearance on the Daily Show in her challenge of traditional partisan thinking on the issue. Traditional thinking, to Baltzer, is the feeling that the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians are mutually exclusive. As she claimed, this is perhaps not the case when one views a lasting peace as the greatest ideal of both sides.
For more information on Baltzer see her website, http://www.annainthemiddleeast.com. Her full appearance on the Daily Show can also be seen in Canada by following the link for October 28 on www.watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/full-episodes.