November 1, 2000

Panelists Debate Mideast Conflict

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A discussion presenting conflicting perspectives on the status of Arab-Israeli conditions took place last night in the Straight’s Memorial Room, drawing increased awareness to the recent social and political upheaval in the Middle East.

This dialogue was presented by the Arab Club, Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC) and the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA).

The discussion was organized by World Voices, a campus group interested in global affairs, and cosponsored by the International Students Programming Board (ISPB) and the Near Eastern Studies (NES) Department.

The panel discussion, mediated by Prof. Ross Bran, NES, was composed of members of the Arab Club and MECA on one side, who offered the pro-Palestinian perspective, while CIPAC, on the other side, provided the pro-Israeli viewpoint.

The pro-Palestinian panel was composed of Ashraf Ismail grad, Rebeca Abou-Chedid ’01, Abdul Rahman Al-Khalidy grad, and Samer Alatout grad. The pro-Israeli panel was composed of Oren Harel ’01, Jonathan Lewinsohn ’02, Rimon Barr grad, and Josh Gleis ’01.

“Because of events in Europe that are completely unrelated to Palestinians, to Muslims or to Arabs, 600,000 Jewish settlers flooded into Palestine between 1917 and 1948,” Ismail said, attributing this Jewish influx to the dislocation of the Palestinian peoples.

In response to implications that the Jewish people have no place in the contested lands of the Middle East, Barr commented that, “The Jews are a peace-loving people. We want solutions. Nowhere in the Quran is Jerusalem given reverence, as Israel is the homeland of the Jews.”

“Palestinian-Israeli citizens are second-class citizens. They are discriminated against in schools and on the streets. Israeli military occupation means any Palestinian can be jailed, sentenced and tortured without a trial. Women can be beaten and forced to watch as houses are bulldozed over. They have no Bill of Rights,” Ismail responded.

Attempting to shed light on the cause of the ongoing struggle in the Middle East, Barr said, “What kills? Not religion. Prayer doesn’t kill — guns kill. Israel is a technological giant with a democratic government and a vibrant culture speaking Hebrew in a Jewish land. Israelis want peace with all neighbhors.”

Urging the panelists to stray away from “misstatements of facts” and culturally polarized “pious narratives,” Brann encouraged a more peaceful and objective discourse in regard to the more substantive issues at stake.

A common claim by the CIPAC panelists was that Palestinians did not retain an inherent ownership to the contested land since there was not even a coherent Palestinian identity in the first place, but rather a broader Arab presence in the region.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re Arabs or not. The French are Europeans, should they be settled in Germany? Palestinians exist in refugee camps and ought to return to their homes,” Abou-Chedid said.

Asserting the aggressiveness of Palestinian “militants”, Gleis stated “we offered the Palestinians $30 billion of compensation, and Palestinian leader Arafat refused. He wants everything and that’s not the way to negotiate peace.”

While contending that “belligerent Israeli soldiers continue to dehumanize the Palestinian citizens,” Alatout asked, “how Palestinians, attacked by a superior military force, can be labeled aggressors?”

“The Palestinians don’t want to share their holy places. The whole idea of inclusion is completely foreign to them. It is the Palestinians that are holding back. They don’t want peace,” concluded Lewinsohn.

Students in the audience had strong opinions regarding the discussion.

“There is a need for mutual respect and a need for emotional exchange. This discussion was a success. You can’t unilaterally understand only one side of this issue,” said Lydia Bosire ’02, president of World Voices.

Umair Hameed ’02, a resident adviser in a multicultural living center said “the discussion started out correct but people soon deviated. Facts were distorted, yet I still respect the passions of both sides.”

“The majority of the panelists are dedicated to peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state. We respect all rights and look forward to forging a peace, although I still believe we [Israelis] have been better partners in forging such a peace,” said CIPAC panelist Lewinsohn.

Archived article by Sai Pidatala