UC Berkeley scholars, one Israeli and one Palestinian discuss Israel-Hamas war

The human toll of the Israel-Hamas war is heartbreaking for people on both sides of the conflict. 

Innocent Israeli civilians have been slaughtered in the shocking Hamas attack in Israel last Saturday and the Israeli Defense Forces'  retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza has leveled buildings, killing and injuring thousands more people.

On Thursday, two scholars at U.C. Berkeley, one with ties to Palestine and one with ties to Israel, sent a letter to the UC Berkeley community calling for peaceful dialogue.

The letter was written by Dr. Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley Lecturer of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and Dr. Ron Hassner, U.C. Berkeley Professor of Political Science & Chair of Israeli Studies.

Their statement came after KTVU sat down for an in-depth talk with both scholars to hear their comments about the history and context of the conflict.

Bazian said it's important for people to understand the Hamas militant group that attacked Israel Saturday is just one faction within Palestinian society.

"The term Hamas comes from an acronym which is the Islamic Resistance Movement. So it's a movement that actually emerged in the late '80s right at the period of what we call the Palestinian uprising in 1987-88," said Bazian, "The other segment we often speak about is the PLO Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is the older organization that was representing Palestinians starting in 1958."

"Hamas became the ruling party in Gaza, while Fatah, the Palestinian Authority became the ruling party in the West Bank," said Bazian.

Hassner said that internal Palestinian power struggle poses a problem for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"Israelis I think understand very well that they are two different organizations," said Hassner, "If the Palestinian Authority fails to denounce these events, it will appear as an incompetant and helpless actor while Hamas takes action, and that empowers Hamas to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and to cause more carnage and more destruction."

One big question is why Hamas decided to attack now.

Both professors agree that Hamas might be reacting to other Arab countries' recent actions.

"The greater Arab community is moving towards relations with Israel and is doing so despite the Palestinian issue," said Hassner, "I think that's what set Hamas in a burst of panic to take this very rash action."

Bazian agrees Israel's greater bilateral relations with Arab states has diminished attention on Palestinians' interests and concerns.

""Its bilateral relations with some of Arab governments, the United Arab Emirates, open recognition and diplomatic relationships with Morocco and other states as well as the possibility of normalization with Saudi Arabia left the Palestinians as a non-actor in the decisions that pertain to them," said Bazian.

Bazian also says Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition with Israel's far right has led to recent clashes this year between Palestinians and Israeli settlers near the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

SEE ALSO: Israel orders the evacuation of 1.1 million people from northern part of Gaza ahead of feared ground offensive

Bazian explained the role the Arab League could play after its meeting Wednesday

"The Arab League is a multi-state body that represents the interests and agenda of 22 Arab countries," said Bazian, "There might be a pressure point on the United States, on Europe especially to open a humanitarian corridor to provide supplies."

Hassner said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's trip to the region and the US military ships to the Mediterranean might be helping to prevent an escalation by Iran and its proxy militant group Hezbollah.

"Hezbollah has the capacity to harm Israel very significantly, at least 10 times as much as Hamas can," said Hassner, "I suspect that the movements of U.S. Naval vessels toward the Mediterranean and a very loud statement by President Biden reminding Iran it needs to stay out of the conflict have had a really calming effect."

In their letter, both Hassner and Bazian recognized their differences,but also highlighted the respect they have for each other.

"We are two professors on this campus who disagree, vehemently. But we have always treated one another with respect and dignity. We love this campus with its diverse communities and all of our students and are heartbroken to hear of incidents of near violence between students in recent days. We will not tolerate our students harming one another. Disagreement and differing points of view are an essential part of campus life, and we expect that you treat one another with the same respect and dignity that we are modeling here," they wrote.