Friday, December 13

Submission misrepresents “˜Human Rights and Gaza’ symposium

I am writing as the chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Center for Near Eastern Studies to respond to the grossly misleading submission by Ben Meiselman, a member of Bruins for Israel (“One-sided Gaza debate a disservice to UCLA,” Feb. 5).

I have to wonder, as anyone who attended the symposium might have wondered, if Meiselman had actually attended the panel or if a member of the neo-conservative Campus Watch (all too present at the event) reported it to him. At any rate, giving Meiselman the benefit of the doubt, I am curious how he could have heard and interpreted what he did.

First of all, I feel it is incumbent on me to inform readers of the august academic figures who spoke at the event and to remind Meiselman that the title of the symposium was “Human Rights and Gaza,” and was intended to inform the audience of the human rights tragedy unfolding in front of their eyes. A special emphasis was placed on the toll on Gaza’s children (even before the invasion) as a result of Israel’s blockade of any goods or humanitarian relief, including medical supplies.

This toll has been reported, with great alarm, by Doctors Without Borders and a number of other up-close humanitarian organizations. However, to not present the humanitarian crisis in a vacuum, two UCLA faculty and two UC Santa Barbara faculty presented historical and legal factors, placing Israel and Palestine and the Gaza Strip in context.

The symposium began with an historical overview by Professor Gabriel Piterberg, an Israeli who teaches history at UCLA and is the author of a new work, “The Return of Zionism” (2008) and dozens of other publications. This well-known and highly respected professor presented an analysis of settler colonialism, comparing aspects of occupied Palestine with the French in Algeria. Professor Lisa Hajjar, chair of the Law and Society Program at UCSB and the author of “Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza” (2005), informed the audience of the international laws that are at stake in the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

She emphasized that it is against international law (a general term I am using for a range of conventions, such as the Geneva Convention) for an occupying power to attack the territory it is occupying, among many other laws of war and humanitarianism that are being violated.

Professor Hajjar was followed by visiting Professor Richard Falk. Professor Falk is a pre-eminent human rights scholar who is United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and the author of the new “Achieving Human Rights” (2008) and “Costs of War: the UN, International Law and World Order After Iraq” (2007). Falk further explicated the violations of international law that have been occurring in Gaza.

The last speaker was Saree Makdisi, a professor of English at UCLA and the author of the newly published “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation” (2008). Makdisi, himself a Palestinian, gave the most ground-zero account of what is happening to Gazans, especially children. His account not only included the disproportionate death toll of children to the adult civilian population, but also the medical and nutritional conditions that are stunting Gaza’s children in every way.

The dramatic and moving symposium stunned the audience in a number of ways. One can only compliment the director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies, Professor Susan Slyomovics, who organized the symposium and was moderator, not only for her firm control of an active audience, but for her clear insight in organizing an event with just the right tone of seriousness, urgency and academic knowledge. Slyomovics herself is a highly respected scholar of Palestine and Israel. She wrote the book “The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village” (1998) as well as a more recent book on human rights in Morocco.

Clearly, these are scholars who are very well-informed on the subject of the symposium and whose scholarship is beyond repute. They are scholars who bring pride to the University of California. This was a group of highly informed and qualified Jews, Israelis, Arabs and Arab Americans examining and trying to make sense of the human disaster of Gaza and criticizing the state policies that have lead to this calamity. This is the role of the Center for Near Eastern Studies ““ to bring us programs of this sort.

Simply because some in the audience (from all perspectives) were out of line in some groups’ sloganeering, the problems should not reflect on the excellent symposium itself. No one on the panel exempted Hamas or suicide bombers from charges of human rights abuses or violations of international law. All clearly condemned the Hamas rocket attacks. Hajjar clearly stated that suicide bombers are committing an act of perfidy, a violation of international law. No one on the panel chanted “Zionism is Nazism.”

By not differentiating between what audience participants said and did and what the scholarly panelists presented, Meiselman did a disservice to Daily Bruin readers who had not attended the event, only doing the very thing he decried ““ perpetuating further divisions among our students.

For those who want to see for themselves, the event was podcast on the Center for Near Eastern Studies Web site: 104049

Hale is a professor of anthropology and women’s studies at UCLA.

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