Event Ignored Discorse and Debate

Quinton Steele

To the Editors:

When I entered Sgt. Benjamin Anthony’s talk, “Confessions of a Frontline IDF Soldier,” already prepared to protest, I was handed a leaflet from Students for Israel. It said, among other such sentiments, “You can be pro-Israel and be pro-Palestine; you can be pro-Israel and be anti-Occupation; you can be pro-Israel and be anti-Settlement; you can be pro-Israel and be pro-Peace.” I thought this a valid and comforting gesture — it showed a reasonable recognition of the failings and atrocities of the Israeli government.

Sgt. Anthony showed absolutely none of the same.

The talk was a moral crusade for the rightness of the occupation and subjugation of Palestine. I endured bitter minute after minute of personal anecdote being conflated as fact — so often arose the statement, “I can’t tell you [insert war crime] never happened, but I can tell you that I have never seen it, and to tell you otherwise would be disingenuous.” This is not reason. This is propaganda and doctrine in its rawest form.

The question-and-answer portion of this speech was even more of a charade. After being reasonably asked, “What is the strategic value of the violent suppression of non-violent protestors?” he proceeded to respond with the question, “Can you tell me how many Israelis died before the [border] wall was erected?” This is neither discourse nor argument. It is the protestation of a middle-schooler.

Those who attended the event will know that I left the session when Sgt. Anthony described the use of white phosphorus (which was deployed over elementary schools) as “a testament to Israel’s humanity.” You may have heard this quote. I feel as though it deserves some elucidation.

Sgt. Anthony delineated the use of white phosphorus as a lighting agent; Israeli army operations occur only at night. He is correct. White phosphorus is a capable and effective lighting agent. This is because it is deployed by artillery rounds in atmospheric bursts, releasing waxy flakes that ignite at 93 degrees Fahrenheit. They burn at over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for several minutes, sticking quickly to skin and burning down until the phosphorus runs out or is deprived of oxygen. This produces deep second- and third-degree burns, and introduces large amounts of the substance into the bloodstream, which not rarely causes massive multiple organ failure. White phosphorus cannot be put out by water — it must be oxygen-suffocated and then removed with a knife or tweezers, flake by flake, while the affected person is submerged, as it is capable of re-igniting after emerging from water.

Using white phosphorus to illuminate an area is like using a flamethrower as a nightlight. There are tools we have to light darkened areas — like floodlights. The difference is that floodlights do not stick to skin and burn at a temperature that can pierce concrete.

I am not sure I support dialogue on this issue at all. Israel speaks every day with the actions of its $13.4 billion annual army. I hear enough voices for Israel already speaking, because they can speak, as an unoccupied and unoppressed people. But even if you support dialogue, this is not it. I am appalled by the use of my tuition funds and those of my peers to bring such a bigoted and thoroughly ignorant speaker. I believe that Students for Israel owes me and the rest of Oberlin College an apology.

–Quinton Steele
College sophomore