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Middle East peace possibilities discussed at 'Civil Discourse' lecture


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October 7, 2002

Possibilities for peace in the Middle East were topics discussed during Monday's "Year of Constructive Civil Discourse" lecture, which featured an Israeli scholar and Palestinian scholar.

Oren Yiftachel, head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Development at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel, and Rema Hammami, professor and chairperson of Gender Studies at Birzeit University Women's Studies Institute, Birzeit, Palestine, gave a brief history of tensions in Israel and answered questions from the crowd of about 50.

"We're pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli," Yiftachel said. "We recognize that the welfare of one people is dependent on the welfare of the other."

The two are part of an informal group of Israeli and Palestinian scholars who have spent several years studying and discussing possibilities for peace in the region. They have spoken at several American universities at the behest of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, an off-campus group.

Since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Yiftachel said about two-thirds of Palestinians have become refugees. The situation became worse in 1967, with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishments of Jewish settlements there.

But the core of the current conflict, Hammami said, was the failure of the Oslo Peace Accords, which provided for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967. The withdrawal was never completed.

She added that the recent tensions were sparked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, to which Palestinians responded with several days of demonstrations.

"The demonstrators, who were originally unarmed, were met with a disproportionate use of force," she said. "It was clear in the situation that Barak wanted to end the uprising as quickly as possible, and that led to greater and greater anger and uprising."

On the topic of international demonstrations in support of Israel and Palestine, Hammami and Yiftachel agreed that hate rhetoric is not helping the situation.

"I've been struck on a number of occasions that a lot of what we see as the core of the conflict has been buried," Hammami said. "One has to be careful not to let (the issue) be hijacked by other things. Demonstrators think they're doing something good for us, but they're not doing anything good at all."

"The problems out there are real," Yiftachel said. "It's not about slogans; it's about death. It's not about being against the Jews or against the Palestinians. If you can find your own discourse separate from the two, I think it's the right way to go."

The International Relations Student Association, the History Department, Academic Affairs, Model United Nations and Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace sponsored the discussion.

SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan identified the 2002-03 academic year as the "Year of Constructive Civil Discourse" as part of the SFSU's response following heightened tension between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters on campus.

The next event, a lecture on "Civil Discourse and Freedom of Speech: Best Campus Practices," will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Seven Hills Conference Center on campus.

More events will be scheduled later this semester.

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Last modified October 7, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs