Activists decry plight of Palestinians

    “”The Truth About Occupation,”” a lecture that featured guest speakers Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf from the International Solidarity Movement, took place on Jan. 10 as the first event in a week of speakers presented by Students for Justice exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Tyler Huff

    Shapiro and Arraf, who are husband and wife, separately discussed their personal experiences living and working toward an end to occupation in Israeli-controlled territories. Both began their careers in the Middle East as mediators in conflict-resolution groups.

    Arraf, whose Palestinian parents fled to the United States before her birth, worked in the Middle East with a group that brought together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers before co-founding the ISM in 2001. Her quickly growing organization adopted the mission of recruiting individuals from all over the world to join Palestinians in nonviolent protests in Israeli-controlled areas.

    “”This is a Palestinian-led movement, but it needs internationals,”” Arraf said, explaining that a Palestinian life is worth little to Israeli military, while the death of an international protester could cause a PR disaster, and that internationals were therefore protecting Palestinians from lethal violence.

    “”What I think promotes misunderstanding is that we were involved in a peace process from 1993 to 2000, but after that people assumed that Palestinians didn’t really want peace. This is said without really knowing what went on during this time,”” Arraf said.

    Arraf explained that while the peace accords were supposed to lead to the end of West Bank and Gaza occupation, the number of Israeli settlers in these areas doubled, Palestinian land between settlements was confiscated, and roadblocks and checkpoints sprung up.

    “”Gaza was closed off. It’s the largest prison in the world right now,”” Arraf said.

    Arraf witnessed firsthand the first Intifada, and was inspired by the nonviolent protests she saw. When the military started instating 24-hour house arrests and regulating businesses’ hours of operation, businesses protested by closing early, in response to which the military cut the stores’ locks, said Arraf. Other Palestinians refused to pay taxes or burned their ID cards.

    “”Even children did creative things, like tying cans to cats’ tails to put soldiers on edge after curfew when nobody was supposed to be on the streets,”” Arraf said.

    Arraf described the daily difficulties of Palestinian life in occupied territory, including the routine of military checkpoints, which she had to pass regularly to go from one Palestinian town to another. According to Arraf, men are the most harassed, held at gunpoint with their hands in the air, made to lift their shirts and sometimes forced to drop their pants. The ensuing wait, she said, sometimes lasted from 7 a.m. until sunset, keeping men from going to work or the university.

    One of the IMF’s actions included escorting Palestinians to their olive fields during harvest season this fall. Arraf said that some days they succeeded, other days they were turned back, and that some internationals were beaten by military in the process.

    Shapiro, who lived for nearly four years on both sides of Jerusalem and who is now a Ph.D. student at the American University in Washington, D.C., went on to describe the life of victims on both sides of the conflict.

    “”I know what it was like Sept. 11, and it was very traumatic, but that was only one event, one day,”” he said, explaining the constant shadow of threat faced by Israeli citizens. However, he argued the Palestinian situation is much more difficult than the Israelis’, who have the freedom to leave their houses every day.

    “”We should sympathize … but we should not be confused,”” Shapiro said, explaining that the Israeli situation is incomparable to the Palestinian situation.

    He also pointed to difficulties in cracking into the average Israeli mindset, citing the media as biased.

    “”You don’t hear the word ‘Palestinian’ in the Israeli media without the words terrorism next to it,”” Shapiro said. “”We are so free here in using the term ‘terrorism.’ But you cannot say that [the Israeli government killing civilians] is not terrorism.””

    As for his vision of the future, Shapiro said that he could not envision peace talks without an end to Israeli occupation first.

    “”Peace has to be between two people who are free and equal,”” he said. “”The occupation hasn’t generated stability for Israel … Ending occupation is just about the only thing we haven’t tried.””

    Talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue Jan. 15 with guest speaker Matt Horton from Stop U.S. Tax Aid to Israel Now at 7 p.m. and on Jan. 16 with a lecture on the peace process from San Diego State University professor Farid Abdel-Nour at 7 p.m. Both lectures will be given in Center Hall 101.

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