Mock Check Point

Posted November 18, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Columbia

Today at noon, Columbia University’s Students for Justice in Palestine constructed a mock- checkpoint in order to visually demonstrate some of the disturbing effects that checkpoints have on the mobility and lives of Palestinian students and teachers in the West Bank (and Gaza). The students and teachers of the West Bank and Gaza requested that this week be designated as a week of international solidarity among students of college campuses. This visual on Columbia’s campus was a response to that request.

The SJP had a live simulation of any given checkpoint on any given day, complete with IDF soldiers holding cardboard machine guns, interrogating individuals going through the checkpoints and demanding their Palestinian Identification cards. There was also a lineup of those who volunteered to be passing Palestinians. These volunteers were made to sit on their knees, blindfolded. A member of SJP explained to me that though acts of humiliation (like blindfolding) do not occur every time a Palestinian passes through a checkpoint, this display was meant to show the unpredictability of checkpoints; that checkpoints present a constant threat of potential humiliation and violence, and in effect result in a prison for Palestinians in these contentious territories. This visual presentation was certainly emotionally disconcerting and showed the regrettable (and inconvenient to say the least) reality that many Palestinians can face on a daily basis.

Check out BWOG for pictures: http://bwog.com/2010/11/18/checkpoint/#more-31519

Event Review: Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Posted November 18, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Columbia

bret stephensBret Stephens’ talk on Nuclear Iran, hosted by Israeli and conservative groups on campus, was about what anyone who saw a flier advertising its sponsors could expect it to be. It was undeniably partisan, but this is not always a bad thing. I will say now that I identify as a liberal but am entirely neutral on America’s relations with Israel and Palestine. I am not “pro” anything, I am just interested in getting more information. So I was glad to attend the event with my friend, whose family is Jewish and Iranian, to hear what a conservative has to say about the ongoing debate about how a nuclear Iran could affect America, Israel, and the Middle East in general.

Though the discussion was ostensibly about Iran, within minutes the speech turned to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Stephens is an American, but he lived and worked in Israel and is Jewish. In his discussion of the flotilla incident, he expressed frustration at the fact that journalists are not uncovering vital information to the story, such as the fact that the group Israelis attacked has well-known and long-standing links to terrorist organizations.

I see his call for a more informed public as highly conductive to a placated situation; people in the region as well as here in America should be able to form opinions based on objective facts. Through open channels of communication, conflict should be reduced and American citizens should be more able to decide who and how they should help.

However, Stephens brought up a miscommunication that can not be fixed with better communication and that he describes as both common and insightful into the nature of conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Israeli diplomat says: “Your country is using terrorist tactics against us.” and the Palestinian representative rebuts by saying, “But you are on our land.” The issues each has are so different that the countries are not even headbutting; they are kicking up dust and running towards each other in debate, but are concerned with such different types of arguments that they don’t even make contact; they run past each other, startled to have not rammed heads, and the problems remain unsolved.

The irony I found here was that, at this gathering, the support Stephens’ voiced for Israel and his belief that liberals should also support it was based entirely on socially liberal standards, even though opposition to Israeli policy usually has little to do with gay rights or abortion . He asked “where else in the Middle East besides Tel Aviv is there a gay pride parade every year?” and also outlined how Israeli citizens enjoy more democracy, more women’s rights, and more social liberties than any other country in the region. He feels that a liberal cannot logically withhold support from Israel. As a liberal myself, I ask, “Is a socially liberal society enough to blindly support a government in every policy it makes?”. He cited the Democratic Peace Theory, the empirical principle that no two developed democracies have ever gone to war with one another, as a reason to trust and support Israel, but it seems that we are allowing too much of a polarization against the states that our ally sees as an enemy. I want to support people who live like us but not at the cost of isolating ourselves from people who have different societies and customs. Working with all sides, and not unconditionally with just Israel, seems like a more prudent and fair approach.

Though I think everyone agrees it would be better for Iran to not have nuclear capabilities, the monetary and political cost of preventing this could be large, and is often a reason people argue against intervening. Stephens says he supports every way of keeping Iran from the bomb; whether sanctions or military intervention, he believes it is imperative to keep the possibility from becoming a reality.

As he said this I thought back to a comparison that was used in my political science course. Sagan, in his article “How to Keep the Bomb from Iran”, warned against the dangers of Iranian nuclear capabilities in part because the regime there is so similar to Pakistan, who has illegally obtained a bomb. Sagan pointed out that both countries have unstable political and social climates, the governments have little control over their militaries, and hostile views towards both the neighbors and the West. Pakistan has a bomb and almost used it against India in the Kargil war. When I asked Stephens about this, and about why he was focusing on Iran’s nuclear capabilities (which, I will emphasize, are not completely developed yet), he said that Iran is an immediate threat while Pakistan is a lesser threat. This surprised me, seeing as how one has a bomb while the other has just uranium; one has come frighteningly close to attacking country vital to the world economy while the other has made incendiary remarks with little “clear and present danger” behind them. Stephens himself even brought up the danger of people like A.Q. Kahn, a Pakistani scientist who sold and distributed blueprints for nuclear weapons to the highest bidders.

Stephens brought up an interesting dynamic in Middle Eastern relations: Palestine is often attacked and abused from all sides, but only Israel, and not the Arabic countries on its borders, are held accountable for their actions. He describes this as the A plus D minus dilemma: when a country is held to too high of standards, such as he sees that Israel often is, they are judged too harshly because they are expected to be able to do more than they possible could. And in the opposite sense, states that are judged to be failures, or D minuses, are given too much credit when they have small successes. He believes that we need a more fair way of viewing the capabilities and successes of Israel, and I hope he expects to include Muslim Middle Eastern countries in this mentality as well.

I didn’t think the speaker was moderate, but I appreciated hearing his opinions. Israel is the most progressive country in the region and does deserve to be respected and assisted, but I don’t think this respect and assistance should be offered unconditionally, and I think it is important to preserve alliances and trust with countries in the Middle East who have different cultures than we do. However, the best way to form a centrist opinion is to hear the ideas and arguments of all sides, and I am glad that Stephens shared his thoughts with our community and contributed to what hopefully will become campus discourse.

Event Review: Bridging the Divide with Kobi and Aziz

Posted November 9, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Campus, Columbia, Event Review, Israel, Palestinians, Speakers

“Bridging the Divide with Kobi and Aziz,” an event sponsored by Just Peace, an affiliate of JStreet-U, was a false attempt to imply equivalence between an experience on the Israeli right- wing fringe and a jstreet logoparallel life in the more mainstream Palestinian hatred of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, dialogue on a human level is essential for building bridges between the two cultures.

It is a rarity for an Israeli to grow up in the Kahane movement as Kobi did. The Kahane movement is a group condemned by most Israelis and legally banned by the state of Israel. On the other hand, Aziz’s childhood practice of throwing rocks at Israeli cars and writing about why there will never be peace with Israel is a much more typical Palestinian upbringing.

Kobi and Aziz shared their life stories so that each group can see the other side as humans.
Aziz spoke to the audience via Skype. He was not allowed to renew his visa because he had spent too much time in the United States.  Aziz grew up in a Palestinian village during the First Intifada, throwing rocks at passing cars. He explained that this was not so much out of hate, but rather because that was just what children did. Aziz explained that sometimes he and his friends would even throw rocks at cars from the wrong side and then they would get in trouble. To me this stood out as the first red flag. In what kind of society do children throw stones as a pastime? There is something intrinsically wrong with such a culture. Aziz continued to tell about how at the age of ten his village was raided by Israeli soldiers. However, Aziz failed to mention that such raids were necessary for Israel in order to reduce the number of horrific suicide bombings. According to Aziz, at the age eighteen his older brother was taken in for interrogation under the accusation of throwing stones at Palestinians.  Soon afterwards his brother past away, leaving a ten year old child with bitter emotions. Aziz blamed Israel for his brother’s death and was overcome with hatred towards Israelis. He joined the Fatah Youth movement at the age of thirteen and became the editor of their youth magazine, writing about why there will never be peace with Israel.

Despite a lifelong aversion to the Israeli language, Aziz decided (for practical reasons) to learn Hebrew in an Israeli ulpan.  This was Aziz’s first interaction with Israelis.  During ulpan Aziz had the opportunity for the first time in his life to exchange words with Israelis face to face, engendering a feeling of mutual respect. He realized that people he always viewed as the enemy were humans too and decided to dedicate his life educating Israelis and Arabs alike.  Aziz began speaking in Arab and Israeli schools where he found that the majority of Arab children had never met an Israeli and that the same was true regarding Israeli children.

The presentation continued with Kobi’s story. Kobi grew up in a Hassidic family in a settlement called Kiriyat Melachi, spending most of his time studying in a yeshiva. One day, Kobi met a Kahane activist who took him and his friend on a tour of Hevron. In Hevron, Kobi was inspired while praying at Baruch Goldstein’s grave (an American doctor who killed 29 Palestinians under the influence of the extremist views of Rabbi Meir Kahane.) He became a Kahane youth and began to throw stones at Palestinians.

Kobi continued to espouse extremist views until he experienced life-changing events during his army service. While walking with his commander through Hevron, Palestinian children began throwing rocks at Kobi and his commander. Since these were large rocks that had the potential to kill, Kobi’s commander instructed him to shoot at the children with rubber bullets. Kobi hesitated, remembering that he had once been in the children’s exact situation throwing stones (although from the opposite side) in Hevron.

In the Second Intifada Kobi was called to defend vulnerable settlements. During this time one of Kobi’s best friends, a father of five with a pregnant wife, was shot and killed in a terrorist attack. The news had a deep impact on Kobi who decided to go work as a guard in the school of the settlement where his friend was killed. One day, a terrorist infiltrated the school and killed three children playing basketball. Kobi saw the body of the terrorist and realized that he was a teenager. It struck Kobi that in a normal existence maybe these children would have been playing basketball together rather than killing each other. He decided to take it upon himself to make sure that Arab and Israeli children have regular, human interactions with each other, in the hope that this would prevent future attacks.

I think that Kobi and Aziz’s mission of humanizing the conflict is important. However, the implied equivalence between Kobi and Aziz is false. Kobi, who grew up in a Hassidic family and became an extremist rock-throwing Kahane youth, is in no way representative of a typical Israeli and nor is he representative of a significant minority of the Israeli population. Kobi’s story is a unique case-study. He had an unusually strict and sheltered upbringing and he happened to encounter a man who influenced him to join the Kahane movement, whose political party is banned in Israel because of its extreme views. The same, however, is not true of Aziz. Unfortunately, hatred towards Israelis is something that is institutionalized in Palestinian culture. It is taught to children on television as well as in school textbooks. Aziz’s childhood act of throwing stones at passing cars is a result of children being taught to hate. This is not to say that there are no Israeli children who hate Palestinians. However in Israel, schools and children’s television shows do not promote violence against Palestinians. Moreover, unlike Kobi, Aziz was actually a moderate in terms of the Palestinian political spectrum. His articles denying the possibility of peace with Israel were written for the magazine of the Fatah party, which is one of the more moderate Palestinian political parties. Kobi and Aziz’s implication that their stories parallel one another is fallacious – while one of these men was influenced by an extreme fringe of his society, the other grew up in the Palestinian cultural mainstream.

I believe that Kobi and Aziz’s goal of promoting basic human interactions between Palestinians and Israelis is a very important one. However, Kobi and Aziz’s approach will only be effective when combined with a fundamental change in the hateful way many Palestinian children are taught to view Israelis.

Event Review: “A Genuine End to Conflict: the Palestinian Perspective,” Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO Representative to the US

Posted October 19, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Campus, Columbia, Event Review, Israel, Palestinians, Speakers

Ambassador-Areikat

Ambassador-Areikat

This presentation of the current situation in Palestine was organized by the Center for Palestine Studies with the support of the Middle East Institute on October 18, 2010. The Center for Palestine Studies is the first such center in North America established with the goal to “open space” in order to promote Palestine studies through academic research.

This event was great in that it offered a distinct perspective on one side of a complex conflict in the Middle East. The views offered at this event in favor of the Palestinian people are useful because they illustrate the continued suffering of the Palestinian people as they continue their struggle to achieve a national homeland in Palestine. The event highlighted that the people who have benefited the least from the peace process are the Palestinian people, many of whom are refugees who continue to live in poverty without their own sovereign state. However, I would recommend that students who wish to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attend events like this one as well as ones that offer completely different suggestions for peace-making. The event offered an interesting and passionate point of view that ought to be explored and considered.

Everything stated below is a summary of what Ambassador Areikat stated at the event and does not necessarily represent the views of CMW.

The Palestine’s Historic Compromise (from the 1980s to present)

In 1988, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist, according to UN Security Council Resolutions. As of 1947, approximately 80,000 Israelis inhabited West Bank. Today, the total population of 1,700,000 people comprises 33% Jewish and 33% Palestinians. Today, approximately 6,500,000 Palestinians are officially registered refugees.

Lessons from Past Agreements

1991: the Gulf War. The United States made a promise to install the Partition.
September 1993: Oslo Accords – this agreement has always been viewed as ambiguous, as it left room for each party to interpret its clauses in their own way. The agreement did not make provision for the 3rd Party role of arbitration. The “most important” questions – the status of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water supply – were deterred to later stages of negotiations; instead, Israelis continued to occupy West Bank by building new settlements. Oslo Accords provided no monitoring or verification mechanism. Negotiations were carried out as an “open-ended process”, without specific deadline to resolve issues. As a result, Israel failed to implement the terms of the agreement.

2 “Myths”

1. The “effectiveness” of Camp David talks

In July 2000, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright approached the Palestinians with an offer to set a meeting with President W. Clinton in an attempt to resolve ongoing tensions. M. Albright officially ensured the PLO that no blame would be put on either side in case of failure to conclude the negotiations. Indeed, chances for failure were deemed much higher than for success. Substantial pressure was imposed upon the PLO to come to agreement with Israel. Palestinians, initially skeptical about successful outcome, stepped back. Despite the earlier promises, President Clinton blamed Palestinians for failing to carry out negotiations with Israel. No real offer had been made by Israel to correct the situation. The PLO was a “State without sovereignty”.

2.  The Meeting between PLO President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, 2007-2008

By 2007, PLO’s infrastructure had been severely destroyed; Israeli occupation continued. Nearly 1-year long negotiations took place in 2007-2008, during which all major issues were discussed. The negotiations, however, failed to conclude as Premier Olmert became involved in corruption scandals and left. The major myth behind these talks: Olmert made a written “generous offer” to Palestine. Facts: Olmert briefly showed a map (without actually handing it over to the PLO for more serious consideration), on which the Israelis outlined a proposed partition of the area. No official follow-up response has even been received from Israel.

The Palestinian Position

Again, the presentation reflects the position of the PLO only. The Palestinian position rests upon two major cornerstones:

1. “End the Game”
The PLO has not signed any agreement with Israel on any specifically important issue.
The Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are integral parts of the PLO.
Insist on 1967 border

2. “The Arab Peace Initiative”
Highly significant; a cornerstone of PLO diplomatic efforts. Iran agreed to build diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange of withdrawing its armed forces from the occupied areas of Palestine.
Currently, 28.5% of Palestine is controlled by Israel. Palestinians possess full control of 18% of the West Bank territory only, 60% – by Israel.

Ambassador Areikat stated that Israel must recognize its responsibility for refugees, and allow Palestinian refugees’ right to return home. He highlighted the two “hot” issues remaining today: refugees and security arrangements.

He concluded by stating that the PLO shall never recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state. 1.2 million people of Israel are not Jews, most of them Palestinians (large Arab minority). As of today, there is no equal footing for negotiations: Israel remains more powerful than the PLO. Additionally, the PLO is not committed to violence as a tool to negotiate; the PLO seeks other approaches, all peaceful in their nature.

Event Review: Columbia Center for Palestine Studies (CCPS) “Zindeeq” Opening Event

Posted October 14, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Campus, Columbia, Event Review, Palestinians, Speakers

columbia pic

This past Thursday night marked the opening of the Columbia Center for Palestine Studies (CCPS), the first academic institution of its kind in the nation. The event received an astounding turnout; 309 Havemeyer Hall was filled to such a capacity that it took almost twenty minutes past the start of the event for everyone to be seated.

This new center, according to co-founder Professor Rashid Khalidi, will promote research of Palestine and the Palestinians across different departments of study. Additionally, the CCPS hopes to provide scholarships to students and host local and global academic exchanges discussing Palestinian issues, while reaching out both within the Columbia community and beyond, to academics, artists, writers and many others across the spectrum. Professor Khalidi also stated in his opening address at the event that provost emeritus Jonathan Cole called the establishment of the CCPS an “important moment in the history of Columbia.”

Amidst claps and cheers throughout the audience, Michel Khleifi finally approached the podium to introduce the screening of, “Zindeeq,” his movie about a Palestinian filmmaker living in Europe who goes to Ramallah to film eye-witness accounts of what happened after Israel declared independence in 1948. After thunderous applause at the conclusion of the film, Khleifi was able to answer questions from various members of the audience, thereby concluding a great start for the Center for Palestine Studies.

The student president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, Aviva Buechler, BC ’11, made a statement in the Columbia Daily Spectator on Friday concerning this new center, saying that “with their mission of studying the history, culture, and politics of Palestine, I think it will really be a great experience for students to take part in.” Along with that statement, she offered the suggestion that the Center for Palestine Studies would collaborate with the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies.

While this collaboration is a hopeful thought, there are a few problems with the theory. At Columbia’s Broadway gates and at the walkway leading up to the grand opening, members involved in the project were passing out anti-Israel magazines, making the false claims that Israel is an “apartheid” state focused on “ethnic cleansing”. Additionally, those attending the event were circulating signs that called for boycotts of Israeli products and funds for a U.S. boat to join the next Gaza “freedom” flotilla. As one of the few pro-Israel individuals attending the event, I personally felt very uncomfortable at the opening event of CCPS and afraid for the changes it can make to the narrative of Israel’s history.

Academic freedom is a right that should be provided to the entire Columbia population. However, one walks a very fine line between academic freedom and academically legitimized anti-Israel sentiment. The Columbia Center for Palestine Studies should take this into account as it embarks on its future circulation of knowledge throughout the intellectual community.
palestine studies

Take 2: CBS hosts Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Finance

Posted October 13, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Columbia

Israel Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz

Israel Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz

The Columbia Business School invited Israel Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz to campus this past week. Appointed in the spring of 2009 in the midst of a global financial crisis, Dr.Steinitz spearheaded a counterintuitive approach to shield Israel’s economy from the man-made scourge. He changed the budgetary framework from one to two years, raised taxes ever so slightly, and brought the budget planning to an implementation period ratio of 1:3.  Such “going against the grain” is characteristic of Israel’s economic tactics.

The lecture was well-attended with seventy five percent of the one-hundred and fifty seat auditorium occupied. Many students from the Business School were present. The talk was emblematic of a certain approach to the underutilized program hasbara; although often unfairly vilified in the arena of politics, Israel enjoys a respected and significant role in the world economy.  Dr. Steinitz spoke forthrightly and compellingly to an engaged audience. Elaborating on his policies, Dr. Steinitz explained that he chose to raise taxes because he wanted to lower them in the future – a strategy he felt would ensure Israel’s release from the negative growth that plagued the economy when he took it over. He reasoned that business executives and individuals would not take full advantage of a tax cut because they would anticipate a tax raise in the future. This assumption paid off. From the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010 Israel’s economy enjoyed the fastest growth in the developing world. Additionally, by the end of this period Israel’s rate of unemployment was at a record low of 6.2 percent. Now that the time has approached for lowering taxes Steinitz has reduced corporate taxes, especially for exporting industries.

As a result of the aforementioned policies the Israeli economy withstood the global financial crisis and this past May even gained entrance to the European-led Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In fact, Dr. Steinitz has made such a drastic effect on Israel’s economy that the OECD tourism conference in late October will take place in Jerusalem.

CBS hosts Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel's Minister of Finance

Posted October 13, 2010 by campusmediawatch
Categories: Campus, Columbia, Event Review, Speakers

columbia busniess school“Never sacrifice the future in order to save the present” is the motto of philosophy professor turned finance minister, Yuval Steinitz. Appointed to a minister position in Israel’s 2009 elections, Dr. Steinitz played a major role in the restructuring of Israel’s failing economy. He told his audience to “focus on a brighter future,” his personality shining as bright as his policy. After fiddling with his microphone and ingratiating himself to the crowd Steinitz confidently reviewed his work, emphasizing his two main reforms.

At the end of 2008 Israel’s economy was progressing negatively, unemployment was rising and governmental revenues were collapsing. Steinitz came to his position with promising plans for the future of the Israeli economy. In his most successful yet unconventional project, Steinitz adopted a two year budget that allowed the government to spend less time planning out the budget itself and in doing so guaranteed a longer period for the projects implementation. Although the salient modification here is efficiency, there is a definitive indication of Israel’s confidence in its economic growth as well.
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