Speakers confront Middle East conflict

    On Feb. 20, a panel of four speakers from the group United4Freedom gave presentations in the Humanities and Social Sciences lecture hall to increase awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    United4Freedom is a multicultural panel dedicated to promoting “”fair and honest understanding of the Middle East conflict as the necessary first step in building a secure, lasting peace.””

    Each of the four speakers focused on a particular aspect of the Middle East conflict. Roberta Seid, a historian and journalist, provided the audience with a brief history of the conflict. She emphasized the importance of accurate research and knowledge of the hostilities in the Middle East.

    “”I’ve been disturbed, as I’m sure you all have been, by the suffering of both sides in the conflict,”” Seid said. “”But I’m also disturbed that so many facts about the conflict’s history have been forgotten or misrepresented.””

    According to Seid, both Israel and the Palestinian territories encompass one-eighth percent of the land in the Middle East. In this area, there have been seven wars in the last 50 years. Seid also discussed the origins of Zionism, the Palestine Mandate and the current terrorism directed towards Israelis.

    Tashbih Sayyed, an international expert on terrorism who also serves as an advisor to the U.S. government, spoke on the inaccurate portrayals of all Muslims as terrorists, emphasizing that most Muslims are moderates who believe in love, faith and acceptance.

    “”Anyone who is an extremist, who is a terrorist, who believes in killing innocent people, is not a Muslim,”” Sayyed said. “”Anyone who comes to destroy earth and nature is not a human being. Terrorism is not one of the traits of human beings; it is a trait not even of animals.””

    Sayyed also discussed the threat of a minority of Islamic extremists, and the need for moderate Muslims to speak out against this group.

    “”Unless [Muslims] start a reformation, I do not see any hope of freeing my people from the bondage of extremists,”” Sayyed said. “”I hope that … the extremists of the Muslim community [will be] defeated like fascism was defeated as a result of the second world war, and that the Muslims will emerge as an enlightened community upholding freedom in society.””

    Author and journalist Cookie Lommel presented information on the kibbutz communities in Israel. A kibbutz is a cooperative living environment in which young people live and work together for the general welfare of the community.

    According to Lommel, there are still over 270 such communities in Israel.

    “”The kibbutz community … invites young people here from all over the world to help them harvest their crops, work in their factories and just generally participate in the productivity of the kibbutz society as a whole,”” Lommel said. “”This resulted in an environment where curious young people began to learn about each other’s cultures and values.””

    Inspired by these communities, Lommel founded the organization Operation Unity upon her return from Israel. She brought a group of young people back to Israel to live in a kibbutz, allowing the youth to challenge traditional racial barriers and stereotypes. Lommel also emphasized that Israel has many humanitarian acts that remain uncovered by the media.

    “”But I think the community at large should share some of the blame, because people in the media write to sell their newspapers and magazines,”” Lommel said. “”It is a shared responsibility.””

    Mark Paredes, who is a press attache and currently the Los Angeles consulate general of Israel, discussed his experiences while working abroad in the Middle East.

    He criticized the Palestinian Authority, which he deemed “”an incredibly oppressive government.”” He also presented his views on suicide bombers and settlements.

    “”I think [the Palestinians] should use their greatest weapon against Israel … and it’s the path of nonviolence,”” Paredes said. “”Unless they use that weapon, they can use all the other weapons, but it’s not going to get them what they want.””

    The panel of speakers was organized by members of the San Diego Israel Alliance.

    “”I think diverse panels and speakers in general who are very diverse and more neutral are very good,”” said Shelley Sorger, president of the organization. “”I really think it’s important that you can see both sides.””

    The San Diego Israel Alliance is a group dedicated to promoting Israeli awareness.

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