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March 3, 2006

Hitchens, Halkin debate Gaza pullout in packed room

Students, faculty, and community members crowded Social Sciences 122 on Wednesday night to see writers Christopher Hitchens and Hillel Halkin in a debate entitled “Appeasing Terrorists? Evaluating Gaza Disengagement,” presented by Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI).

Hitchens, the well known author, journalist, and writer for Vanity Fair began by arguing for two separate states. He said that the two-state solution, despite being difficult and messy, is the only workable answer. Religious tension between the two cultures makes co-existence untenable.

“There’s a very good reason that the two-state solution won’t work,” said Halkin, a noted author and columnist for The Jerusalem Post. “When you take a state the size of New Jersey, it’s impossible to divide it in a way that satisfies both parties.”

Halkin went on to say that any future Palestinian state would be too small to be acceptable.

Halkin instead called for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal to somewhere near its 1967 borders. Instead of a Palestinian state, the West Bank would be assimilated by Jordan due to its proximity, cultural homogeneity, and the high number of Palestinians currently in residence.

The audience remained engaged throughout the debate, supporting both speakers with applause at several points.

During the question-and-answer session, one audience member challenged Halkin by claiming that the Israelis had changed their approach to the Palestinians as a response to terror.

“Don’t you share my shame as a Jew that for 39 years money and blood has been invested in an affair that you now admit was a failure?” he asked.

“No I do not share your shame,” Halkin said. “I am glad it [the post-1967 borders] happened. It is not terror that has driven Israel out of Gaza, nor will it drive Israel out of the West Bank. What has forced Israel out of the West Bank is demographics.”

He added that he was more comfortable now with Israel giving up the territories knowing that the Israelis had tried their best to retain them.

The audience questioning highlighted the different perspectives on religion held by the two debaters. Halkin responded from a Jewish standpoint, while Hitchens expressed dislike for religion in general, citing it as the root cause for the complications in Palestine.

“There’s a special ward in the Jerusalem hospital for people with Jerusalem syndrome,” said Hitchens, comparing the strong desire for Jerusalem to a mental illness. “This is what I mean when I say religion poisons everything.”

In contrast, Halkin cited his own life as an example. “I grew up as a Jewish boy in Manhattan, longing for Jerusalem,” he said.

The debate was also sponsored in part by Student Government Finance Committee, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Jewish Community Relations Committee, and Newberger Hillel.

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