Sunday, March 9, 2008

Discussion Addresses Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The New Paltz Oracle Volume 15 Issue 79 Thursday, March 6, 2008

By Andrew Lipkowitz, News Editor

Almost 70 local activists and residents packed into New Paltz Village Hall Sunday night for a discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which organizers said was created to present a view of the situation not typically seen in the U.S. media.

The discussion, which was titled, “Speaking Out against the Occupation of Palestine,” presented the Palestinian perspective on the conflict and was critical of the Israeli government, as well as American support for Israel. A short film titled “Jerusalem in Exile,” and two speakers, Joel Kovel and Jane Toby, explored the subject of Palestinian oppression in the Gaza strip and the West bank.

“The purpose in organizing this meeting was to look at the perspective of the Palestinians, to balance out what has been a totally one sided area,” said Jack Smith, editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, and an organizer of the event.

The main speaker at the event was Joel Kovel, a professor at Bard College and author of the book “Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine.” Kovel’s speech criticized Israel for violating the human rights of the Palestinians by cutting off water, reducing electricity and limiting their movement throughout the country.

“There is no moment when they are not engaged in trying to eliminate the remaining Palestinians by taking away the things that make them human,” Kovel said.

Matthew Averbach, a senior graphic design major, said that Israel usually cuts off water or reduces electricity in response to attacks from Palestinian militants. He also said that checkpoints in Israel are for safety precautions.

“If you go into a mall in Israel, it doesn’t matter who you are, you will be stopped,” Averbach said.

Averbach founded the group Hawks for Israel on campus last year, which seeks to educate students about Israel.

Kovel’s presentation took a strong stance against Zionism, which is the doctrine that supports the creation of a nation-state for the Jewish people.

“I thought a lot of it was valid, but I can understand why you might walk out of one of his presentations, especially if you are Jewish,” said senior communication and media major Ian Taylor, who attended the event.

The conflict in the Middle East took renewed importance this week, as violence between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza strip and West bank left approximately 116 Palestinians and three Israelis dead. The violence started Feb. 27 when Hamas militants launched rockets from the Gaza strip, killing an Israeli civilian. Israeli air strikes before the attack killed several Hamas members. Palestinian officials claim many of the dead are civilians.

“I think we are verging on genocide in Gaza and the West bank,” said Fred Nagel, an organizer of the event and member of the Middle East Crisis Response Group, which supplied the speakers for the event.

The Middle East Crisis Response Group is based in Woodstock, N.Y. and formed after the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, to oppose “the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” their Web site says.

“Before people jump to conclusions and begin hating one side,” Averbach said, they need to realize, “the future of Palestinian and Israeli children are at stake.”