"Israel is America's alcoholic best friend," laughed Ali Abunimah on Friday evening, the co-founder of Electronic Intifada and the culminating speaker of "Palestine Awareness Week." "If your friend is an alcoholic and drinks too many beers, would you give him more beer money and the keys to your BMW?" Regrettably, this type of slander and hateful, empty rhetoric characterized much of "Palestine Awareness Week" - held Feb. 11-15th and sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
On Tuesday, visiting Prof. Neve Gordon gave a sophisticated, insightful analysis of the continued Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza. His talk, titled "From Colonization to Separation," clearly outlined the serious struggles of the Palestinian people, and was well supported with evidence. However, Gordon refused to provide the larger context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. When confronted with this difficult topic, Gordon replied "I am not interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict," and further refused to answer any difficult or politically sensitive questions from the audience.
Thursday's topic, "Aspects of Apartheid: South Africa and Israel," was delivered in two parts. One was given by University of Michigan at Dearborn Prof. Hani Bawardi. Bawardi made several excellent points about the difficulties that Palestinians face as a virtuely unrepresented nation governed by people he believes to be occupiers. However, the discussion escaped the realm of rationality once Bawardi made comparisons between Yassir Arafat and Nelson Mandela. Arafat is documented to have embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars of aid from the Palestinians and he ruthlessly oppressed those who opposed his leadership.
Mandela, on the other hand, once wrote, "It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle…" Violence was a last resort.
America and the greater international community have often misinterpreted Arafat's words and gestures. As Arafat explained the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords to the Palestinians, he referred to the Peace Agreement as a "Hudna" - a term sometimes translated to mean a tactical cease-fire that would allow the Arabs to rebuild their infrastructure until the cease-fire was called off.
Comparing Arafat to Mandela is irresponsible and offensive to Mandela's enduring legacy.
Bawardi's lecture was riddled with other inaccuracies. He claimed that Israeli Defense Force handbooks read, "Better to leave a non-Jew to die, rather than help them," and he cited the Old Testament as saying that "Palestinians are impure." Not only are these statements absurd and offensive, they are untrue.
At the end of Thomas Abowd's speech this past Monday, titled, "Introducing Palestine" a student asked the following question: "Mr. Abowd, would you consider the situation in the West Bank and Gaza to be a genocide?" Abowd smirked and glared back at the student, recognizing him as a member of the pro-Israel community. "No," he responded, "Why don't you go to tell Daniel Pipes that one" and then, as the crowd chuckled he added, "and while you're at it, how about letting your buddy (Alan) Dershowitz know too." The audience erupted in laughter. The speaker used scare tactics to intimidate and to alienate the student and to negate the importance of his question. Is this how we should expect to be received at future SAFE events?
As non-SAFE members, we felt wholly unwelcome during each presentation. We recognize that this is not a one-sided issue, and we feel an obligation to learn what different views have to offer. We respect the attention given to valid, relevant and factually sound descriptions of Palestinian life, and we believe that it is important for students to hear these messages. Unfortunately, SAFE denied University students this opportunity: Instead it opted to structure its awareness week around attacking Zionism and the State of Israel.
"Palestine Awareness Week" possessed great potential to spread awareness about the Palestinian people, about their daily struggles in the West Bank and Gaza and about their rich history and culture. It had potential to educate students and to expand the horizon of awareness about the Palestinian people - to draw in students to an issue that has proven difficult to understand.
However, SAFE's mission has become increasingly ambiguous. Does SAFE advocate a two-state solution? A unified, single secular Palestinian state? A Muslim state? Is SAFE supportive of Palestinian leadership as it proceeds in negotiations with Israel?
We believe the best chance for peace in the Middle East involves a safe and secure independent state of Israel living alongside a safe and secure independent state of Palestine. SAFE, will you join us in furthering this vision?
Ari Parritz is an LSA junior and president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. Ben Kaminsky is an LSA freshman and a member of the Israel IDEA governing core. Eitan Ingall is an LSA sophomore and president of the Israel IDEA.