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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003, pages 82-83

Student Activisms

Students Build Mock Refugee Camp, Apartheid Wall

To mark the 55th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948, Students for Justice in Palestine created a mock refugee camp on Hornbake Mall, at the University of Maryland's College Park campus, and a large canvas "Israel's Apartheid Wall." From April 6 to 20 five students took turns sleeping in the small wooden spray-painted shacks,furnished only with an electric heater, a clock and a small bed, to make a point about the desperate living conditions Palestinians refugees still endure, as well as to protect the camp from vandals.

The shacks and apartheid wall served as startling backdrops for candlelight student vigils honoring the fallen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as teaching tools for fellow students passing by.

"We need to show the hardships Palestinians are facing," Rami Kishek, an assistant resident adviseras well as the faculty adviser for SJP, told the university's Diamondback newspaper. Students created the refugee camp to commemorate the anniversary of Deir Yassin and educate the campus community about what is really happening in refugee camps now.

A student activist, Jawad Muaddi, showed Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, reporters around the refugee camp. Notices on the shacks refer to American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed when an Israeli army bulldozer ran over her, and a controversial Diamondback political cartoon, which depicted her actions as an act of "stupidity" for "protecting a gang of terrorists." The cartoon, published two days after Corrie's death, sparked more than 2,000 outraged e-mails from around the world, an all-night protest outside the Diamondback editorial offices, and rebukes from the university administration.

Mark Hiew, a freshman letters and sciences major, wrote "Martyr For Peace," a moving response to the cartoon controversy, for the March 20 Diamondback. Lambasting the ignorance and insensitivity of the Diamondback staff, he used his article to tell students the truth. "The house Rachel Corrie was protecting was not one being used by militants, terrorists or any other targeted body. It has been used by international visitors for the past three months. There is absolutely no justification for the Israeli government's action, and Friedman's cartoon completely skewed the facts by claiming Corrie was protecting Ôa gang of terrorists.'

"Corrie herself was as far from being a terrorist as any one of us could ever be. She was a native of Olympia, a young woman dedicated to the fight for peace and justice. She had spent the past seven weeks in Rafah, acting to protect the property and homes of those who lived there. This is a woman who did not deserve to die.The actions of the Israeli government must be condemned, for to tolerate murders such as this is a step toward tolerating genocide. Hundreds of Palestinian homes have been systematically demolished as part of the Israeli government's plan to build a wall of separation between Israel and the Palestine region. Corrie's death is a small part of a much larger, more fearsome program.

"The complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be overlooked. Clearly, there is wrongdoing on both sides. I condemn the suicide bombings of the Palestinian terrorists as I condemn the killing of innocent Palestinians by the Israeli army. But this incident goes beyond these borders. Rachel Corrie was an American citizen, clearly marked and visible, who was horrifically killed without any reasonable justification."

Hiew's article concludes, "Rest in peace, Rachel. Your courage and struggle toward the dream of peace and justice in the Middle East shall rest within our hearts forever."

Spray-painted next to a picture of Corrie on one shack in the University of Maryland's refugee camp were the words, "Honor our martyr." Another shack depicted a "Hate Cat" bulldozer with "The Diamondback" printed on its side, while a "hero" with an American flag stands before it. Read a caption above the bulldozer, "Stupidity is no excuse for murder."

Delinda C. Hanley

Manifest Destiny Considered at Georgetown

Academics, journalists, and other interested parties gathered at Georgetown University March 27 and 28 for a symposium sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. The question under scrutiny was the issue of manifest destiny with regard to U.S. policy in the Middle East. After a brief welcome by CCAS director Barbara Stowasser, the conference opened with a panel highlighting various perspectives on the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Robert Oakley, a visiting fellow at the National Defense University, argued that the key to al-Qaeda's success was the new U.S. imperialism of globalization. Nor was it just political and economic domination that were at fault, he said, but those policy problems were further complicated by an attitude of desecration toward Islam as the result of a rise in evangelical movements in the U.S. Oakley warned against trying to fight terrorism unilaterally, however, maintaining that diplomacy was a far more effective tool than military intervention.

Dr. As'ad AbuKhalil, a political science professor at California State University, and Stanislaus and Research Fellow at the Center for Middle East Studies at Berkeley, noted that there was a large school of thought that agreed with Bernard Lewis, who argued that there was nothing the U.S. could do diplomatically to foster better U.S.-Arab relations because the Arabs would never forgive Christians for the Crusades. Scoffing at this notion, AbuKhalil drew attention to the recent reception in Algeria of French President Jaques Chirac. Despite much animosity from years of colonization and war, Algerians were happy to receive the French leader, as a direct result of France' stance against war on Iraq. AbuKhalil suggested the U.S. withdraw immediately from the Middle East and use that as a first step to peace.

ABC News journalist John Cooley opined that the solution for seriously strained U.S.-Arab relations lay in immediately addressing the situation of Palestine and Israel, but did not agree that the U.S. could withdraw from Iraq precipitously.

In a panel on policy and politics, Michael Hudson, Georgetown University's Seif Ghobash Professor of Arab Studies, stated that the 1990s were a decade of missed opportunities. Now, he said, the neoconservatives in power are taking advantage of that to advance their own ends. The U.S. is currently engaged in four wars in the Middle East, Hudson pointed out—Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and the war on terror—and concluded that things were not going well for the new American empire.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole discussed the post-9/11 loss of civil liberties experienced by all groups in the U.S., but particularly by those of Arab descent or from predominantly Muslim countries. Of the thousands detained, Cole pointed out, none had been charged with connections to 9/11 and only three with any connections at all to terrorism. Cole contended that new procedures were faulty because they were unconstitutional, counterproductive, and illusory.

New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh informed the audience that "Congress is not going to save us, and the media is not going to save us, [but that the U.S.] is suffering a constitutional crisis." The worst is yet to come, Hersh cautioned.

Another panel was devoted to the media and public opinion. AMIDEAST President William Rugh said that public diplomacy had failed for various reasons: a lack of resources for programs in the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) or the Voice of America; the merger of USIA with the State Department; the failure by the Bush administration to use the tools that remain; and that, since 9/11, U.S. policy has been much harder to defend. Rugh recommended better communications on various levels (person-to-person, educational exchanges, etc.) between the U.S. and the rest of the world, greater reliance on public diplomacy specialists, and a healthy dose of sympathy and respect for others.

Samer Shehata, acting director of Georgetown's Arab Studies academic program, maintained that the U.S. had a credibility problem due to the disparity between stated public diplomacy goals and practiced policy. He also cited a "slick, glossy" publication entitled Network of Terrorism that Shehata said would not be any more effective in swaying Arab or Muslim minds than the Sawa radio station. Arab youth listen to the music played on Sawa, he noted, but ignore the slanted American news at the top of every hour. The U.S. is not a commodity, Shehata argued, and one cannot "sell Uncle Slam." Moreover, he added, the kind of marketing the U.S. is using to export its society shows "either a profound misunderstanding of the issues, or a cynical glossing of the issues."

Pollster John Zogby of Zogby International gave a quick overview of a number of polls taken throughout the Arab world, the findings of which showed a sea change from similar polls conducted a year ago. Zogby did find, however, that anti-American sentiment was caused by U.S. policy, not by American culture.

Sara Powell

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