September 30, 2005

Prof Explores Mideast Issues

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Speaking in a small but filled classroom in Goldwin-Smith, Prof. Elias Zureik, sociology, Queen’s University, a leading scholar in Palestine Studies, addressed the need to gap the communicative space between Israelis and Palestinians in his lecture entitled “Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Issue” yesterday afternoon.

A renowned, active authority on Palestine studies, Zureik’s numerous published academic works include articles and books such as The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism, a publication that Prof. Michelle Campos, Near Eastern studies, called “very pivotal” in shaping current views on the ongoing conflict and tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

Zureik unraveled a series of explanations and argumentations as to the seriousness of the Palestinian refugee issue, as well as why the peace planning of the region depends on this issue being properly addressed. He began the speech with an acknowledgement of the delicacy of the matter: “[The Issue of Palestinian refugees] is a contentious issue, it is contentious in every sense of the word, from the title of the subject to who the refugees are, to how they came about and what is to become of them.”

He defined them as the largest single national group of refugees worldwide, making up roughly six million of the 20 million total transient populace (not counting those displaced due to natural disasters). He further explained they are a United Nations-registered group, living in and outside of refugee camps, scattered mostly throughout countries in the Middle East, and even internally within Israel itself. The two largest categories of the six million include 4.3 million who are descendants of refugees from the 1948 war with Israel and 1.3 million from the 1967 war with Israel.

A multitude of limitations define the lives of these outsiders, according to Zureik, with notable exception of those living in Jordan. Every day they face exclusions ranging anywhere from missing social and political rights, to denial of job and education access, to the distrust of their host nations. Zureik challenged his audience to see “This is not just a pie-in-the-sky issue you can pontificate over a cup of coffee.”

He described Gaza as “nothing less than a prison,” citing it as a highly overcrowded area, whose land and air space are completely policed by Israeli forces, to the point of “total strangulation” of the Palestinian people.

Also explored in the talk were hot topics such as the Palestinian right-to-return; the economic, social, and political degradation of the populace; and the failure of the 1993 Oslo Agreement to produce progress, often suggesting an unwillingness on Israel’s side to compromise or co-operate. Ultimately, however, he opened the lecture to a plane of possibilities for dialogue.

“How,” he inquired, “do you establish psychological rapport between two sides that have been fighting for one hundred years?”

Zureik outlined the four-point proposal he created during his sabbatical in 2000 as a starting point for discourse.

“The healing of past wounds,” he said, is the crux of true progress for the region. Among the four were a request for Israel to accept responsibility for displacing the Palestinians and the notion that those refugees whose return can be accommodated need not all come back at once, but rather, they could enter through time-staggered gates of various criterion such as age or family situation. In addition to his four-point proposal, Zureik entertained, at the end of the talk, the concept of a joint truth and reconciliation committee.

“Let the small people hear one another,” he told the audience. A lasting solution, he said, lies not in distributing appropriate punishments to guilty parties but in allowing the ground populace to heal and, through discourse, let the people of the region decide on the next course of action. Though he said international help from countries like the United States is a much-needed element in peace efforts, Palestinians and Israelis do not need the sanction of their governments to explore peace. He expressed disappointment in U.S. foreign policy in the region.

“The U.S position just parrots the Israeli position,” he said, considering the strong bias very damaging to progress. “The Congress are a bunch of sheep. They act as a rubber stamp to [lobbyist group] AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee).”

“Professor Zureik provides a very important Palestinian voice,” Campos said after the lecture, “that students don’t usually hear.”

Voicing the increasingly oft-heard opinion that not only students, but Americans in general, are much less informed in international affairs than they ought to be, she supports lectures like this that raise the awareness of differing opinions which are not being so heavily circulated in the mass media.

She added that our roles as citizens and taxpayers are complicit in all of our government’s foreign affairs.

“People can’t keep blaming each other. What Professor Zureik was trying to show is that instead of both sides continuously voicing wrongs of the past, they should be acknowledging and addressing the issues, and figuring out ideas for how to solve them,”said Natasha Miller ’06 after hearing Zureik’s lecture.

Groups such as the Enaudi Center for International Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and the Department of Government sponsored the two-part event.

Archived article by Suzy Gustafson
Sun Contributor