Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004, pages 56-57

Southern California Chronicle

Dr. George Bisharat Discusses “The Power of Apology” at UCLA Palestine Week Event

By Pat and Samir Twair

  • UCLA Palestine Awareness Week speakers (l-r) Muna Mardini, George Bisharat and Alison Weir (staff photo S. Twair).

ARAB AND Muslim students at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) put together an ambitious slate of events for their April 10 to 15 Palestine Awareness Week, with lectures, films, a tent from which literature was handed out, and a 10-feet high cardboard replica of Israel’s Apartheid Wall.

“Combating Myths About Palestine” was the topic of the April 12 talk by George Bisharat and independent journalist Alison Weir. Bisharat, who holds a Ph.D. degree in anthropology and teaches criminal law at UC Hastings College of the Law, traveled from San Francisco to deliver his speech, entitled “The Power of Apology and the Palestinian Right of Return.”

After outlining the destruction of Palestinian society when the Israelis expelled half the indigenous population in 1948, Bisharat pointed out that an additional 200,000 Palestinians were pushed out in 1967.

“Israel’s rejection of guilt [for expelling Palestinians] is painful,” he said, “but the Nakba [“catastrophe”] is not just a memory, but a lens through which Palestinians look at the future.”

The international community united in a consensus in December 1948 with U.N. Resolution 194, which calls for the right of return or compensation for Palestinians made refugees. Nonetheless, Bisharat pointed out, the Israelis have been stonewalling on this for 56 years.

“Israel should acknowledge and apologize,” he explained, “because it owes a moral debt. Apologizing would put peace negotiations on a new footing.”

Such an apology would not be a panacea, he acknowledged, because some Israelis still doubt Palestinians were deliberately expelled. Drawing on his own experience, Bisharat described an article he published one year ago about his grandparents’ home in Jerusalem. Three Israelis who actually lived in the Bisharat family home contacted him, he said. One native-born Israeli who said he had lived in the house for three months met with Bisharat and apologized for the theft of his ancestral home.

“It gave me vindication,” Bisharat recalled, “and it also filled me with admiration for the man who apologized. I believe an official Israeli apology would result in an untapped source of Palestinian magnanimity.”

The inevitable group of hostile listeners at such an event challenged Bisharat to address the issue of Jews who fled Arab states to live in Israel.

“There have been injustices on a smaller scale to Jews,” he replied, “but it is not of the same import as kicking out 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Tribes in North America fought Europeans colonizing their land, but their uprisings do not change the fundamental injustice they were victims of.”

Weir gave a slide presentation on “What the Media Leave Out.” These statistics are available on pp. 22 and 23 of the September 2003 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,. More up-to-date figures are available on her organization’s Web site, <www.IfAmericansKnew.org>.

Summer Hathout Addresses Lawyers

Summer Hathout, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, discussed domestic violence as it pertains to the Muslim community at an April 1 meeting of the Arab American Lawyers Association of Southern California.

“The Arab-American and Muslim communities are not more susceptible to domestic violence than any other group,” Hathout noted. “It affects everyone across the board.”

However, the young prosecutor stressed, Arab, Muslim and Asian people tend to look at an admission of being a victim of domestic violence as a disgrace, and cover it up. Nonetheless, she noted, there are two shelters for battered Muslim women in Santa Monica and San Diego.

When asked if any Muslim has used the excuse that the Qu’ran allows him to beat his wife, Hathout replied this is not an effective defense and would not get an abuser off the charges.

A few Muslims try to justify their actions by citing Chapter Four, verse 34, of the Qu’ran, she explained. The Muhammed Ali translation reads: “And as for those women whose ill-willed rebellion you have reason to fear, admonish them first then leave them alone in bed; then beat them and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them.”

Reads the Ahmed Ali translation of the same verse: “As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively then leave them alone in bed; and go to bed with them when they are willing. If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them.”

The key word in these two translations, Hathout said, is the word daraba, which can be interpreted as beating or as inferring consensual sexual relations. The Qu’ran uses daraba 16 times, she pointed out, and the word also can mean, separate, stay away or leave.

“If an individual wants to stick to the classical interpretation, then let him also acknowledge that the Prophet Muhammed never struck any of his wives,” Hathout concluded. “All of us need to be more vigilant—when we see the telltale signs of abuse, particularly bruises or frequent injuries—then we should reach out and try to make the victim feel safe, and aware that it isn’t a disgrace to seek help.”

Moskowitz Investigation Begins

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of the Stop Moskowitz Committee has announced the Los Angeles County grand jury is gathering information on Irving Moskowitz’s casino and bingo parlor operations in Hawaiian Gardens. News of this development comes from the national Jewish publication, The Forward.

Moskowitz has become notorious in Jewish peace circles for channeling proceeds from his bingo parlor in Southern California’s poorest and smallest city to finance militant Israeli settlers’ efforts to take over Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem.

Former California State Assemblyman Scott Wildman chaired the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) which, in 2000, issued a critical report of Moskowitz’s operations in Hawaiian Gardens and his alleged control of the tiny city. Wildman has been questioned twice by the grand jury which, the Forward article stated, was concerned that little investigative work was done after his report was made.

After filing the report, in which he recommended that the state order Moskowitz to return the estimated $12 million he received from Hawaiian Gardens’ redevelopment agency, Wildman said he was stripped of his JLAC chairmanship by Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg.

The public integrity section of the grand jury—which evaluates possible criminal charges—is handling the probe. For more information, visit <www.stopmoskowitz.org>.

PAC Marks Land Day

  • Palestinian American Congress emcee Joanne Abu-Qartoumy (c) with Mary Abu Saba (l) and Donna Baranski-Walker of the Rebuilding Alliance (staff photos S. Twair).

Representatives of the Rebuilding Alliance were keynote speakers at the March 30 Land Day observance of the Southern California Chapter of the Palestinian American Congress. More than 350 guests were on hand for the dinner program emceed by Joanne Abu-Qartoumy in La Mirada’s Grand Café.

Donna Baranski-Walker, executive director of the Rebuilding Alliance, said that since her organization was founded in June 2002, it has built a safe-haven preparatory school for girls in al-Fakhari and constructed six homes. It also has funded two legal defense initiatives petitioning for the permanent freeze demolition orders of Beit Arabiya Center for Peace and al-Aqabah village.

Mary Abu Saba described the damaging effect Israel’s Apartheid Wall is having on the people of Abu Dis. In Rafah, she said, the Israelis are destroying five to ten Palestinian homes each week for the construction of the wall and for settler roads. The alliance has produced a film which it takes to churches and meetings to inform Americans of the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. For more information, visit <www.RebuildingHomes.org>.

House of Lebanon Event

“From Dream to Reality” was the theme for the Lebanese American Foundation’s third annual banquet March 20 to celebrate its House of Lebanon project. LAF chairman Dr. Hanna Shammas announced that $1.5 million has been raised for the cultural center in the past three years, and the committee is entering the phase of finding a location for it.

On hand for the elegant event in the Downtown Marriott Hotel were honorary chairman Dr. Ray Irani, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, and the Lebanese Consul General to Los Angeles, Charbel Wehbi.

Keynote speaker was Joseph Aoun, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California. Addressing the challenges facing youth today, he urged those in the audience to encourage their children to have at least two majors in their university studies. With today’s explosion of knowledge, he explained, future generations may have to specialize in different fields because of globalization and outsourcing.

The second challenge facing young Lebanese Americans, Dean Aoun continued, is their loss of the Arabic language and cultural traditions—and this is where he believes the House of Lebanon will serve many of their needs.

Noting that the Koreans have established a cultural center to preserve their cultural heritage for younger generations in Los Angeles, Dr. Aoun said Lebanese Angelos can accomplish the same.

The LAF’s mission is to “secure a roof neutral from religious and political influence under which” Lebanese Americans can socialize, network and share knowledge about Lebanon’s unique culture. In the not-too-distant future, the House of Lebanon will have a cultural center with a library, exhibit area, conference rooms, banquet hall and community center offering social, education and health programs. 

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.

Additional information