A Forum on the Plight of Palestinians

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The month of March has for many years featured college and university campus events that expose Israeli Apartheid in particular and the true nature of the state of Israel in general. While many student organizations commendably do this on a yearlong basis, this month has events that focus with a laser like precision on facts that the mass media try to keep hidden.

For example, the beleaguered nation of Gaza, often referred to as the world’s largest prison, stands out as a victim of Israeli siege, its air, sea and land points of entrance and exit controlled by Israel. Humanitarians are outraged at Gaza’s condition, seeing it as the most egregious example of Israel’s inhumanity, though not the only one. When Gaza’s condition is brought to public attention, the outrage grows and, of course,  includes all of Palestine. Those who educate the public are doing the victims an invaluable service.

The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles presented an excellent educational forum this week on the plight of the Palestinian people, with one speaker focusing on Gaza. This event was an introduction to the SJP’s coming Palestine Awareness Week.

The first speaker was Palestinian-American Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History at Loyola Marymount University, Najwa al Qattan. Professor al Qattan gave an overview of Zionism and the colonization of Palestine beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present.

Her power point presentation included the beginning of Zionism which, contrary to what many believe, was secular and viewed Jews as a nation, citing biblical Israel. Zionists organized and formed a lobby, emigrating and settling with British help. Professor al Qattan cited the Balfour Declaration.

In referencing the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, she mentioned the often forgotten or dismissed Nakba, the tragedy and plight that this founding imposed on the Palestinian people. Professor al Qattan spoke of the wars of 1967 and 1973; the emergence of Hizbollah as a force to be reckoned with; the Peace Treaty of 1978-1979; the Intifada, and the emergence of Hamas.

Bringing her audience closer to the present, Professor al Qattan told of the Oslo Accords, “The Peace of the Brave” and the intensification of Israeli settlements. Standing out in this century is Israel’s vicious attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which began in late December 2008. Today witnesses Gaza circled, more than 600,000 Israeli “settlers”, an Apartheid Wall, and “A nuclear state versus a stateless People”.

The second speaker was LMU Professor Gil Klein, an Israeli whose specialty is ancient Judaism. He began by saying that Israel claims Palestinian society is fractured, thus making a peace agreement difficult.

He asserted that Israeli society is equally fractured. Israel tries to hide this, but there are armed groups among settlements. There are outposts of “unofficial settlements” that Israel recognizes.

While right wing groups may be referred to as “resistance groups” they are not truly that. They not only attack Palestinians but also leftist Jewish activists. The Israeli Army either ignores of supports settler violence. Settlers put a “price tag” on any Palestinian activity they feel needs retribution. It is hard to tell “who is a settler and who is a soldier.”

Professor Klein showed pictures of burned mosques with Hebrew graffiti with reference to the price tag that the violence represented. Nor are Palestinian Christians exempted. The audience saw pictures of a desecrated Christian cemetery with a similar message in the accompanying Hebrew graffiti.

The residents of Hebron must put netting over their city to protect themselves from filth thrown at them by a settlement situated above them.

The third speaker, Eva Bartlett, is a veteran International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist. She arrived in Gaza in the Fall of 2008 on one of the ships that broke the Gaza blockade. She decided to stay, and during the time she was in Gaza, she faced down Israeli soldiers; accompanied fishermen as they left the shores of Gaza and headed into the Mediterranean; accompanied farmers as they tried to work the land, and held the hands of the wounded in ambulances after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.

As she addressed the audience she said she was in Gaza “to accompany and document”. Ms Bartlett reminded her audience that Gaza is a physically small land and holds 1.7 million people, two thirds of whom are refugees.

She referenced on Power Point a border region between Gaza and Israel. It contains fertile land that Israel denies to the Palestinians though it is within their legitimate purview.  Further, the Israelis attack Palestinians within that area and place control towers and patrol with Jeeps on that Palestinian territory.

Ms Bartlett showed pictures of homes destroyed by Israelis. During a demonstration in Gaza Israel fired on two medics tending the wounded, even though by international protocol they should have never been the targets of assault while carrying out their medical duties.  Israel has also downsized the Oslo Accords by preventing Gaza fishermen from fishing up to 20 miles off their Mediterranean coast as set by Oslo. Now they may only venture three miles, and they cannot make decent catches in that limited area. This of course has not only impacts their livelihood but has deprived the population of Gaza of a nourishing source of food.

Gazans in need of medical attention who must cross the border in order to obtain it are told by the Israelis that as a quid pro quo they must cooperate with Israeli intelligence or “go back to Gaza and die”.

A lively question and answer followed.

“I never realized how much the people of Gaza suffered” said one young woman of college age following the presentation.

Students for Justice in Palestine at Loyola Marymount University began after a trip by a group of students to Israel and the West Bank. The students were able to witness first hand Israeli atrocities, and while there met with Palestinian activists. Their trip was part of a school program at LMU and required a post-trip action plan. That plan was the formation of an SJP chapter. A future program is to apply pressure on the University to divest from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine.

To connect with the SJP chapter at LMU, please use the following e mail: ltenerow@lion.lmu.edu.


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