Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Faculty for Israel-Palestine Peace Reports on Visit to Region

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Faculty for Israel-Palestine Peace Reports on Visit to Region

Article excerpt

The pacuity for Israel-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP) organizes twice-yearly trips for academics to visit Israel and the occupied territories. One of FFIPP's co-founders, Lawrence Davidson, professor of Middle Bast studies at Westchester College in Pennsylvania, and his wife, cultural anthropologist Janet Amighi, gave a superb slide presentation and discussion about their june 2003 visit to the area for the Princeton Middle East Society on Nov. 6.

They began with Israel's separation wall, which snakes into the West Bank to capture settlements and aquifers for the Israeli side. The couple's slides vividly show the swath of devastation caused by the construction of the wall, with the land completely razed for 50 meters on either side. In one area where many trees were removed, the Palestinians who owned the trees asked if they could have the trees in order to replant them. The Israelis offered to sell them back their own trees-an offer that was refused. It was as though Israel had kidnapped the trees for ransom, Davidson said.

Israel requires Palestinians living in villages on the wrong side of the wall to obtain residency permits to live in their own homes. But Israel grants the permits only to those who were born there. Gates provide access to the West Bank, but Israeli soldiers unlock them only for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon-and sometimes not at all for weeks at a time. Israel plans to build industrial zones adjacent to the gates so that, as Davidson characterized it, the proles could be let out to work. Israel, he said, is proud of its "citizens' army," but rather than civilizing the military, the occupation has militarized Israeli society.

Davidson described the situation of Palestinians living within Israel as a blend of democracy and ethnocracy. Palestinians can vote, but the Law of Return applies only to Jews. While Palestinians comprise 20 percent of the population of Israel, they have access to only 6 percent of the land, because the Jewish Agency controls 14 percent and the Israeli Land Administration 80 percent. Palestinian residents of the 91 unrecognized villages absent from Israeli maps pay taxes, but receive no services whatsoever. Those in recognized villages and towns are unable to build homes beyond the "blue line" encircling their communities. Their children study from an Israeli curriculum which, Davidson said, excludes Palestinian history and is hostile to Arabs.

Amighi and Davidson are particularly effective in discussing issues raised by their slide presentation. Their aim is to make more Americans aware of the situation, both in the territories and within Israel. They can be reached at .

Bouthaina Shaaban at Princeton

Three days after President George W. Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act, Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban discussed "Syrian and U.S. Relations in a Changing World" at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson Center Dec. 15. Shaaban, professor of English Literature at Damascus University, is the author of Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk about their Lives. She has acted as interpreter for Presidents Hafez and Bashar AlAssad, adviser to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Charaa, and currently is director of Syria's Foreign Media Department.

Shaaban wondered what Syria has done to deserve such a bad relationship with the United States. The Syrian people, she said, are amazed and hardly understand what is happening.

In Operation Desert Storm of 1991, she pointed out, Syria joined the U.S.-led coalition to liberate Kuwait. Damascus then played an important role in launching the U.S.-led Middle East peace initiative that began in Madrid that same year. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Syria cooperated with the U.S. by providing information that, according to Shaaban, saved American lives in at least seven instances. Yet Syria still is on the list of countries harboring terrorists and now faces threats of U. …

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