News from New York: Kevorkian Center Speaker Describes Israel's Colonial Logic

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News From New York: Kevorkian Center Speaker Describes Israel's Colonial Logic

At the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University, Tom Abowd spoke on "Excavating Israel's Colonial Logic." A Columbia University Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, Abowd discussed how Israel uses imagery portraying Jerusalem as the "eternal, undivided capital of Israel" to assist its goal of colonizing the city.

The lecture preceded the announcement of Israeli plans to build a large new Jewish settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim/Har Homa. Abowd had relevantly observed that "the `culture core' of East Jerusalem -- the walled Old City and the sites of religious significance it envelopes -- is used symbolically to give legitimacy to the rings of settlements which fan out into occupied Palestinian territories, the primary sites of physical appropriation and demographic transformation." After their 1967 conquest of the city, the Israelis enlarged Jerusalem's municipal boundaries to include Jabal Abu Ghneim and other expropriated West Bank territory.

Abowd showed slides by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to illustrate his thesis that "domination is made to appear natural, `optionless' -- and even progressive." One post-Oslo poster, for example, portrayed "Israel" as a dove that included all of occupied Palestinian territory and pieces of all the surrounding countries. A more common image that Abowd calls "political" is a picture of the Western Wall and the al-Aqsa Mosque labeled "Israel."

This image represents more than Jewish religious feeling for the site. It mirrors an official Israeli policy to push Palestinians out and settle Jews in East Jerusalem, which has until recently been predominantly Arab. Abowd said, "There is a simultaneous desire to create the impression of eternal ownership while at the same time radically transforming the city and the space called `Jerusalem.'"

Abowd concluded, "What is demanded of the outsider -- and in fact of the Palestinian -- is to be simultaneously historical, trans-historical, and sensitive to the presence, importance, and claims to the land by the Jewish people (dating back to the time of King David) while at the same time being entirely ahistorical and effacing the long, central reality in this horrible colonial narrative: namely, that the indigenous population has claims to the land that supersede those of settlers newly arrived from Brooklyn or Moscow or Belarus."

Columbia Speaker Questions Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam

Uptown, Columbia University sponsored a lecture by Professor Ann Elizabeth Mayer on "Islamic Law and Human Rights Law: Conundrums and Equivocations." Mayer spoke to a roundtable of scholars at the University Human Rights Seminar, which this year is focusing on religious issues.

Professor Mayer pointed with concern to the current trend to fuse elements of Islam with human rights law. Mayer acknowledged that Islam can be interpreted in constructive ways that provide cultural legitimacy for human rights. Nevertheless, she said, progressive Islamic trends are impeded by entrenched reactionaries.

Mayer illustrated her thesis with the Organization of the Islamic Conference's Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that "All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah." Mayer said that the declaration provides protections that are inferior to internationally accepted norms on freedom of religion, association, and press; equality of rights and equal protection of the law; and the observance of democratic principles, among others.

Mayer observed that religious leaders in Islam (as in other religions) present their views on rights questions as if they represented a consensus of believers. Yet, she opined, no such consensus exists; Muslims' attitudes on rights questions are more likely to be influenced by politics than by religious doctrine. Furthermore, since women are excluded from positions of religious authority, Muslim feminists who challenge the notion that Islam mandates the inferior status of women are unable to effect change. …