Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 53-56
Northern California Chronicle
California Friends of Bibliotheca Alexandrina Honored In San Francisco
By Elaine Pasquini
More than 2,000 years after the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed, the doors of a new Bibliotheca Alexandrina are scheduled to open in the spring of 2001. Egypt’s First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, as head of the Honorary International Committee, led the effort to create the library complex, at an estimated cost of $175 million. She was assisted in this effort by UNESCO, the U.N. Development Program, and many international governments and institutions. The complex is located on approximately the same site as the original library, which was built in 304 B.C. and destroyed over a 400-year period beginning in 48 B.C. The new circular structure faces the sea and has a library area consisting of 13 floors, covering 743,000 square feet. Connected by a bridge to the University of Alexandria, it faces the 15th-century Fort Qaitbay, which stands on the ancient site of the famed Pharos lighthouse. Envisioned to become the world’s eighth largest public library, the complex will house a library for young people and the blind, a planetarium, museum, conference center and an International School of Information Studies.
The California Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina were honored at an Aug. 24 reception and fund-raiser hosted by Consul General Hagar El-Islambouli and her husband, Dr. Adel Ezzat, at the Egyptian Consulate in San Francisco. Following an introduction by the consul general, several members of the organization addressed the 200 guests. Rosalie Cuneo Amer, chairman of the California Friends, stated the organization’s goals were to “educate the public and raise funds for this project of peace.” California State Librarian Dr. Kevin Starr pledged, “The [California] State Library will do everything it can to support this project.” Fund-raising coordinator Charles Griffiths detailed fund-raising efforts and explained that, since the U.S. government no longer has formal ties with UNESCO, American support has been through private donations only. Additional speakers included Helen Angelides, president of the California Friends, California State Democratic Assemblyman for the 19th district Louis J. Papan, and Friends member Sameha Tawfik.
Billboards Urge End to Iraqi Sanctions
“Sanctions are destroying my generation,” states the 4-year-old girl gazing out of two recently erected billboards in San Francisco. The first billboard was unveiled Aug. 28 along Highway 101 at the Grand Avenue exit in South San Francisco. On Sept. 22 a second billboard was erected at a more heavily traveled roadway in San Francisco approaching the Oakland-bound Bay Bridge before the 4th Street exit.
Funds for the project were raised by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) San Francisco Bay Area Chapter in co-sponsorship with the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association North America in an effort to draw attention to the average Iraqi’s miserable plight under sanctions in the face of scant media attention to the effects of the decade-old U.N.-imposed economic sanctions. According to U.N. estimates, approximately 1.7 million Iraqis have died since 1990, and some 5,000 children continue to die every month from diseases such as malnutrition, cholera, typhoid, or leukemia. These diseases were non-existent or treatable until the economic sanctions caused the collapse of Iraq’s healthcare system and basic infrastructure, including water purification and sanitation systems.
Several organizations contributed to raising the funds needed for the billboard project, including Amnesty International USA, the Arab Cultural Center, Arab Film Festival, Arabica, Center for Political Education, Global Exchange, International Action Center, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Women of Color Resource Center, American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice and Institute for Multi-Racial Justice. Two events held last spring, “Artists for Iraq” and a walkathon at Tilden Springs in Berkeley, raised substantial funds for the End the Sanctions Now billboard campaign.
Prior to the unveiling of the South San Francisco billboard, ADC held a press conference at the San Francisco Iraqi Cultural Center (ICC). Speakers included ADC national president Hala Maksoud, Sol Kanowitz of the International Action Center, and Nadine Naber of ADC’s San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. Ayman Hussein, a 10-year-old Iraqi refugee, spoke to the audience of journalists and television reporters on the need to lift the sanctions, which continue to harm his family and friends in Iraq.
Santa Clara Supports Right to Hold Anti-Zionism Week
After weeks of debate, the Santa Clara County Network for a Hate-Free Community on Aug. 16 recognized the right of the Santa Clara University Muslim Student Association (MSA) to hold an anti-Zionism Week. MSA’s “Anti-Zionist Week 2000,” held at the university campus last May, featured a lecture by University of California at Berkeley Professor Hatem Bazian entitled, “Zionism and Israel: Strategic Liability to the United States.” To the criticism by some Jewish students that Bazian’s speech was offensive, the MSA responded that the complaining students did not understand the nature of Zionism.
Two Jewish groups, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) asked the Santa Clara County Network for a Hate-Free Community to condemn the MSA’s activity and declare it a “hate speech.” Along with the MSA, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) strongly opposed both the ADL and the JCRC’s complaints. A sub-committee formed to investigate the matter discussed the issue, including the circumstances surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 and the massacres and forced expulsions of the Palestinians at that time. The Network then issued its statement. It said, in part, that “...we decry the tortures and massacres that have taken place in different parts of the world and at different points in history no matter who the perpetrator is or what the motive is. We also stand firmly for the basic human rights of all people and in a special way for refugees. We will do everything possible in our community to promote respect for all people, all cultures, all religions, and to defend the human rights of all.”
Jerusalem Food Festival
St. George Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem held its 3rd Annual Jerusalem Food Festival Sept. 2 and 3 at the Commodore Sloat School in San Francisco. Some 4,000 people flocked to the outdoor event which featured, along with Middle Eastern cuisine prepared by church members, music, henna painting and a bazaar selling jewelry and artwork. Kan Zaman Photos offered children and adults a chance to pose for souvenir pictures of themselves wearing traditional Middle Eastern clothing inside an authentic Bedouin tent. One popular booth featured videotapes, books, and information about the Christian community in Jerusalem, which has decreased from 31,000 in 1948 to approximately 10,000 today, according to church leaders in the Holy City. Information about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was also available.
According to Father George Jweinat, St. George’s has a congregation of approximately 1,200 families, primarily of Palestinian-Jordanian descent. For the past several years, the church has held services at St. Francis Episcopalian Church while church members search for an appropriate building to buy. Unfortunately, since real estate in San Francisco is limited and prices are high, to date they have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.
Photojournalist George Azar Speaks at Arab Film Festival
Lebanese-American photojournalist George Azar narrated a showing of his slides of the Middle East at the Fine Arts Theatre in Berkeley on Sept. 10. Some 200 people attended the presentation, which was sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Arab Film Festival.
In 1981, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied political science with an emphasis on the Middle East, Azar hitchhiked across Europe to Lebanon. In May of that year the Israeli military began a bombing campaign in West (Muslim) Beirut, destroying homes, apartment buildings and basic infrastructure. “Atrocities against the Palestinian and Lebanese people,” Azar called the destruction depicted in his slides, showing families in fear and desperation running for shelter from the shelling. Azar captured poignant images of orphan children in the Beirut National Stadium entertaining themselves, between aerial attacks by the Israeli airforce, with acrobatics and games. He met boys 12 to 18 years old, members of the many neighborhood militias, who asked him to take their photos so they would have one for their “martyrs” posters, which are plastered around Beirut after a young man is killed in battle.
Azar admitted that cynicism and sadness eventually drove him from the Middle East in 1984. He returned in 1988, however, to cover the Palestinian grassroots uprising known as the intifada. Azar photographed scenes of Palestinian youths battling Israeli soldiers, homes destroyed by Israeli explosives and bulldozers, and humiliating experiences of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. He also traveled to Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war and photographed the damage caused by the U.S.-led coalition forces, in addition to the damage caused by the Iraqi military in crushing the uprising which occurred at the end of the war.
Azar, who has photographed the Arab world for the past two decades, is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning CBS program “Beirut Photographer,” and the author of Palestine, A Photographic Journey. His current project involves showcasing world featherweight British-Yemenite boxing champion Prince Naseen Hamed.
“Cinemayaat,” the 4th annual Arab Film Festival of the San Francisco Bay Area, was held Sept. 7 through 18 at three local theaters: the Roxie in San Francisco, Fine Arts Theatre in Berkeley, and the Towne in San Jose. “Our objective is to present films representing the complex issues facing the Arab world and which might not otherwise be available to Bay Area audiences,” states Dina Saba, executive director of Cinemayaat.
Among the 25 films presented were a retrospective of 1940s and ’50s Egyptian musicals and two documentaries by Palestinian director Nizar Hassan, who appeared at the showing of his powerful film, “Yasmin.” Caterina Borelli’s documentary of Yemen’s unique mud-brick structures, “The Architecture of Mud,” was shown following George Azar’s presentation. Two films, “Diogenes: Ansar 3” and “With Beating Drums,” were presented in association with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
On Sept. 15, author and film critic Jack G. Shaheen spoke at the Berkeley showing of his film, “Arab Screen Images: Escalating Intolerance, Enhancing Tolerance.” Countries presenting works at the festival included Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, Great Britain and the U.S. The Arab Film Festival Web site may be visited at <www.aff.org>.
Denis Halliday Urges End to Iraqi Sanctions
Denis Halliday, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, made several Bay Area appearances Sept. 15 and 16, speaking on the need to end the U.N.-imposed sanctions against Iraq. Appearing with Halliday at the University of California at Berkeley Sept. 15 were Yousef Al-Yousef, vice president of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice; Medea Benjamin, Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein; and Phil Gasper, professor of philosophy at the College of Notre Dame. The evening program was sponsored by American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Muslim Student Union. Snehal Shingavi of the ISO served as moderator.
Yousef recounted the recent history of the Middle East leading to the current tragic situation in Iraq. The U.S., he said, driven by its oil interests in the region, vacillated over the years in its support for Iraq, Iran and the Kurds. Referring to the sanctions’ “destruction of Iraq as a viable state for generations to come,” he urged the audience to take part “as sincere human beings to stop the killing of the innocent people of Iraq.”
Benjamin, a U.N. nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for 10 years, compared the economic sanctions against Iraq with U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. “There is something desperately wrong with a U.S. foreign policy designed to create hunger,” she said. “To think that [the U.S.] could create a mass internal uprising by starving people is one hell of a crazy policy.” Both Cuba and Iraq, she noted, provided adequate health care and food to their citizens prior to the imposition of sanctions.
Gasper delineated items which are prohibited to Iraq by the sanctions, including pencils (because they contain graphite), ambulances, fertilizers, pesticides, chlorinates and water pumps. “Genocide,” he stated, “is the one word that could sum up the sanctions against Iraq,” which have killed, according to U.N. estimates, over 1.7 million people. It was “shameful,” Gasper stressed, that sanctions were not a major issue in the recent U.S. presidential campaign. He pointed out the irony of both major candidates being concerned about violence in video games and on television, but ignoring the Iraqi sanctions issue.
While acknowledging that “we’re still struggling for human rights,” Halliday was upbeat that the outlook is changing, as movements to end the sanctions gain momentum worldwide. He described the dire situation in Iraq today, noting that there are 131 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared to only 31 deaths for every 1,000 live births 10 years ago. “There is no moral or legal basis,” he stressed, “in continuing a policy which has killed more than 1 million Iraqis.”
Halliday believes Iraq’s economy must be restored to the standard it enjoyed prior to 1990, when it had modern hospitals and infrastructure, and a high rate of literacy. “Baghdad’s technocrats know how to run their country,” he added. In conclusion, Halliday urged the audience to speak out against the sanctions. “How will you explain this to your children or grandchildren if you remain silent?” he asked.
Halliday also appeared at the Arab Film Festival’s screening of “Paying the Price—the Killing of the Children of Iraq” at the Fine Arts Theatre in Berkeley Sept. 15 and at a Sept. 16 matinee showing at San Jose’s Towne Theatre. Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM arms inspector and author of Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem—Once and for All, spoke with Halliday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco on Sept. 16.
Sparks Fly in Debate Over Jerusalem’s Future
“Did Barak Go Too Far, Or Not Far Enough—The Future of Jerusalem” was the topic igniting an emotional and, at times, acrimonious discussion held Sept. 19 at the Jewish Community Federation Building in San Francisco and presented by Open Circle, the Young Adult Forum of the American Jewish Committee. Panelists were Palestinian-American Hanan Rasheed, national executive secretary of the Palestinian American Congress; Israeli-American Marcia Freedman, president of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Israeli Knesset member from 1973 to 1977 and founder of the Israeli Women’s Movement; and Dr. Michael J. Franzblau, vice president of the board of directors of the Zionist Organization of America, national executive committee member of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and a life commissioner of the Anti-Defamation League. (Dr. Franzblau refused to be photographed for this report.)
Since fleeing her native Deir Dibwan village outside Ramallah after the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, Rasheed has championed the creation of an independent Palestine and promotes one-on-one contacts between Jews and Arabs in the U.S. The Palestinian negotiators, she believes, are striving to find “a just and comprehensive peace” for the Palestinians. Rasheed said that her family on the West Bank is unable to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City because Israeli soldiers prevent many Palestinians from entering Jerusalem. She strongly objects to any Israeli control over East Jerusalem, stating, “We need control of our holy places.”
Franzblau, who said his comments were his own and not those of any organization, called the complexity of the plans presently being discussed about Jerusalem “unbelievable,” “Byzantine,” and “a demonstration of a disaster.” The debate turned adversarial when Franzblau adamantly pronounced that Arab women in the Palestinian controlled areas “lack equality with men.” To this Freedman countered, “Do you think within Israel there is equality for women?”
Turning to the subject of the amount of land Israel should return to the Palestinians, Freedman commented that since Barak is “willing to give up [only] 90 percent of 22 percent of historical Palestine, how can we expect the Palestinians to give up more?” She called the settlements “totally illegal,” prompting an angry response from Franzblau.
Regarding the shortage of water in the region, Freedman pointed out that “Palestinians have no water rights,” explaining that in some areas Israelis have water pipes one foot in diameter, compared to Palestinian water pipes just one inch wide. “This is not justice. This is not how I want Israel to be represented around the world,” she stressed. Freedman advocated that Jerusalem be the capital of two states, with the Palestinians having complete sovereignty over their capital in East Jerusalem.
Emotions intensified during the question- and-answer session, although moderator Michael Bernstein, Open Circle president, skillfully deflected the fray. Answering a question from a young audience member about a possible Jordanian-Palestinian union, Rasheed explained, “We’re not Jordanians, we’re Palestinians and we’re entitled to our own country, Palestine.”
Thousands Protest in Streets of San Francisco
“NO to Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians and NO to killing a 12 year-old boy” were the messages conveyed by demonstrators outside the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco the first two weeks of October. More than 2,000 protested at an Oct. 6 rally organized by the Santa Clara-based American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice, which included speakers Yousef al-Yousef, vice president of the organization; Barbara Lubin, founder of Middle East Children’s Alliance; Hanan Rasheed, national executive secretary of the Palestinian American Congress; Father Labib Kobti, pastor of San Francisco’s St. John of God Church; University of California Berkeley Professor Hatem Bazian; and Richard Becker of the International Action Center. Each speaker condemned Israel’s excessive and unwarranted use of force, including live ammunition, armor-piercing missiles and rockets fired from helicopter gunships, which has killed more than 100 Palestinians and injured several thousand since Sept. 28. “We are all children of Abraham,” exclaimed Father Labib, “[but] no one is better than another. Let the children of Abraham live in peace.”
“I am a Jew and I am ashamed,” read the sign held by Adam Gutride, one of 35 Jews from the Berkeley-based peace advocacy group A Jewish Voice for Peace demonstrating at the Israeli Consulate Oct. 13.
More than 3,000 people attended a march and rally Oct. 14 sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, American Muslims for Jerusalem, Al-Qalam Institute, ADC-SF, Al-AWDA, UCB-Arab Student Union, MSA WEST, MSU Berkeley, Council on American-Islamic Relations, American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice, People for Justice and Peace in Palestine, International Action Center, ADC-Sacramento Chapter, SF State GUPS, Palestine Arab Fund, and the Palestinian American Congress.
Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in Ignacio, CA.