Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Portland Activist Reports on "Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace" Visit

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Portland Activist Reports on "Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace" Visit

Article excerpt

Sister Elaine Kelley is administrative officer of Friends of Sabeel--North America, based in Portland, OR.

Will Seaman, a volunteer with Jews for Global Justice and the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, and a leading organizer of the January and March mass antiwar demonstrations in Portland, is viewed by his fellow activists as one of the most articulate local voices speaking out on the Iraq war and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He also is one of a growing number of activists worldwide who see a trip to Palestine and Israel as essential in developing personal credibility on Middle East issues. At a public gathering July 17 at the Multnomah Friends Meeting Hall in Portland, Seaman reported on his participation in a Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace delegation to the region.

Seaman, who received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in May 2002, is not a member of any faculty himself. He describes himself as "an unemployed philosopher," and currently works as a mechanical design analysis engineer at a major inkjet printing company. According to its Web site (), Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace works to develop ties with academic institutions in Palestine and "organizes a variety of campaigns and petitions on the Web and in national newspapers to increase public awareness for university engagement in achieving peace in the Middle East."

FFIPP's advisory board has a strong Jewish and Arab membership and includes, among others: Richard Falk and Peter Singer of Princeton University, Khalil Barhoum of Stanford, Clovis Maksoud of American University, Jeffry Frieden of Harvard, and Joshua Cohen of MIT. The organization has earned the ire of the Israeli right-wing for its online campaigns and petitions demanding academic freedom for Palestinian universities and for raising awareness of western academic institutions of Israel's violations of those freedoms. FFIPP began two years ago with a group of Israeli, European and American professors and sponsored its first delegations in December 2002. The latest delegation visited Palestinian universities from June 15 through July 5, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Al Quds and Birzeit Universities.

This was Seaman's second trip to the region, having spent six months on an Israeli kibbutz from January through June 1978. "I had friends who had worked on kibbutzim and their experience sounded interesting," he explained. He also had family members in Jerusalem who were living on a kibbutz and was hoping to get to know relatives he had never met before, he said.

"I happen to be Jewish, and this should be irrelevant, but we know this does matter," Seaman stated at the opening of his presentation. His motivations and his concern with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict come not from either a pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel bent, he said, but rather from a grounded commitment to justice. "You can be pro-Israel, fully committed to its founding principles," he argued, "and still realize occupation is the worse thing for the country and the people of Israel." His presentation, Seaman said, based on stories and photographs of his trip, would attempt to express the repeated requests he received from Palestinians to "tell the American people the truth about what you have seen here."

Using maps to explain the fundamentals of the Israeli occupation, Seaman stated at the start that "there is no parity in this conflict. Palestinians are facing one of the most powerful militaries on the planet," he said, where violence is overwhelmingly against the Palestinian civilian population. …

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