September 27, 2011
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Speaker touches on ‘humanity’ in concerns with Israel-Palestine conflict
by matt.young Sep 22, 2011 12:17 am
Dorian Silva, Spartan DailyEnglish professor Persis M. Karim discusses her views, during her "Report Back from the West Bank of Palestine" Wednesday in King Library.
Wednesday night at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, the Israel-Palestine conflict was central in a lecture by Persis Karim, associate professor of English and comparative literature at SJSU.
In “Occupied Minds: Life and Education Under Occupation,” Karim reported on the strains on the education, economy and living conditions of the Palestinians observed during a recent trip to Israel and the West Bank in May of this year.
She wove her story together with a series of photos she took illustrating the plight of the people and the rhythms of life.
“After I went to the West Bank of Israel, I became a lot more engaged in and interested in the question of Israel and Palestine,” she said, referring to the issue as “the elephant in the room.”
Acknowledging the tensions inherent in the issue, she said, “I know that this topic incites controversial discussions and sometimes people get very emotional,” and portrayed it as a “terrible situation for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
She said neither side was without blame and that corruption is evident in both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
“It is a human rights issue,” she said.
Karim said one of the reasons she went abroad was to find out a little about what is happening in the midst of the incredible upheaval that’s taking place in that part of the world.
“One of the things I learned about education in East Jerusalem is that it’s very unorganized,” she said.
Karim said the constant disruption of resources creates inefficiency in the educational system, with everything from preschool to doctorate programs starved for resources.
“There is only one Ph.D. program and it’s in chemistry — where do they go for higher education? Here,” she said in reference to America, adding that it became much more difficult after Sept. 11.
Karim also talked about the reason why people in Jerusalem are living in poor conditions — she said people there live in very crowded circumstances due to housing laws and settlements all over Israel.
“Palestinians that own houses have to get a permit to renovate their homes and if they don’t, it leads to home demolition,” Karim said.
She related the story of one man who was illegally rebuilding his home, which had been destroyed twice before, and showed pictures she had taken of his work, with wooden beams being put in place.
“(The Israelis) won’t grant him a permit,” she said.
Karim said there are refugee camps all over Israel that Palestinian families are transferred to.
“Ramallah is a refugee camp and Palestinians are moved to these throughout the West Bank,” she said.
She said there were several partitions between the people made up of walls, checkpoints and segregated roads, “creating a barrier for human contact,” and that her experience passing through the checkpoint was one of the “most humiliating experiences” she ever had.
Karim likened the situation to America’s history of “Jim Crow laws and American Indian Reservations.”
She showed more positive aspects of life and said she “wanted to focus on the good as well as the bad.”
Examples included the creative efforts of some of the people she encountered, including one man who collected spent ammunition shells and turned them into works of art.
Despite having been injured over seventy times, she said he wants to turn the casings into a Statue of Liberty.
Another man who had been photographed as a child hurling a rock at Israeli soldiers had taken up the violin and now teaches music to children, she said.
“Music was a healing medium,” she said.
After the presentation, Karim answered the audience’s questions.
One audience member asked about Palestinians moving toward “unilateral action” with the United Nations.
“The Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon said that in the new Palestinian state there would not be a single Jew, or a single gay person,” he said.
Both societies involved have problems, Karim said.
“If there is a two-state solution, I don’t think Israelis will want Palestinians either,” Karim said. “I think we should be realistic about how things play out,” to which the audience responded, “That’s not true.”
Karim said that if people think she is lying, they should “go there and see for themselves.”
“What struck me throughout the presentation is that the solution is to bring people together,” said Michael Batchelder, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. “Separation brings conflict and solidarity creates peace.”
“I was interested in the whole Israeli and Palestinian conflict and hoping to learn something new,” junior engineering major Lloyd Walker said. “I was disappointed that there was what appeared to me to be a rather biased opinion. I was hoping she was going into something about why things are the way they are in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Karim said she hoped that people would consider the humanity of the people involved.
“There can either be peace or more war,” she said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to officially submit a statehood request to the United Nations in defiance of U.S. and Israeli threats. A new joint Israeli-Palestinian poll shows the Obama administration’s stance on Palestinian recognition at the United Nations is more extreme than that of a strong majority of Israeli citizens, with 69 percent of Israelis saying their government should accept U.N. recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Danny Danon praised President Obama’s speech at the United Nations and warned Israel will have a strong reaction to the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership. "If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now" President Omaba. We saw from President Obama was a speech that was more pro-Israel than anything we have ever seen from him, which is saying something. And that was not a speech by a president of the United States addressing a world body with any sincerity about bringing an end to the conflict. There's been talk of "Peace, peace" for years now, and that's about all it's been--talk. The Israelis have remained the same as always. Oh, they've talked of peace, and they've thrown the Palestinians a few crumbs here and there. The poor Palestinians have been hoping for change for years, but there's been very little change. They work for the Israelis for a pittance, for pitiful wages that keep them on the edge of poverty, while rich Israelis are building lush, expensive settlements on land which was seized from them. It's going to take a miracle and a miracle-worker to make the Israelis give up any significant or worthwhile part of Israel, especially Jerusalem, to the Palestinians.
Ted Rudow III, MA
Class of 1996