NEWS

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March 5, 2004

Scholars debate Mideast

A diverse crowd of Jews and Muslims, both students and faculty, heard Salim Yaqub and Abdul Palazzi debate the greatest threats to domestic and political tranquility in the Middle East on Wednesday night. The heated evening discussion, "Threats to Peace in the Middle East," consisted of two half-hour speeches, a debate, and a question-and-answer session.

The Student Committee on the Middle East (SCME) sponsored the event.

Yaqub, assistant professor of history at the University, argued the Palestinian perspective. He admitted being uncomfortable focusing solely on the Palestinians, since the consequences of the Middle East conflict reach beyond Palestinian society.

"This conflict threatens and concerns people the world over, regardless of nationality," Yaqub said.

He discussed the Partition Plan of 1947, in which the newly formed United Nations (U.N.) voted to partition Palestine without majority consent.

"Having played such an essential role in sparking the conflict, the U.N. now has the obligation to help resolve it," Yaqub said.

Israeli forces are currently occupying the West Bank and Gaza for the 37th straight year. The Oslo peace process of the 1990's eased some of the occupation, as Israeli forces withdrew from most Palestinian population centers and allowed the newly formed Palestinian Authority, under Yasser Arafat, to administer to those areas.

He criticized the Israeli military and its responses to Palestinian demonstrations, including the uprising of September 2000.

"The high number of Palestinian civilian casualties results from the extremely reckless, indiscriminate, and trigger-happy way in which Israel has sought to quell the uprising in the occupied territories," he said. He cited the Human Rights Report issued by the State Department as his primary source, and emphasized the fact that this information did not come from Palestinian or ultra-liberal sources.

Advocating the Israeli perspective was Abdul Palazzi, a professor of Middle East Studies in Rome, secretary general of the Italian Muslim Association, and imam for the Italian Islamic Community at the Shafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence.

Palazzi said he thought the main source of the conflict was the Oslo agreement.

"[The Oslo Agreement] didn't open the gate of peace, but on the contrary made the situation worse because it empowered a terrorist organization and permitted PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] to take control of a territory, so Palestinians are executed every day," he said.

He noted that corpses are exposed in public squares as a warning to anyone who criticizes Arafat's regime. "The political situation for Israel has not improved at all, because the level of terrorism has increased and the situation of the Palestinians has not improved in any way either," Palazzi said.

Citing Palestinian television programs that celebrate suicide bombers, he said that he had little hope for the next generation of Palestinians. "Children are being educated this way—singing songs, and raised to think, ‘I want to be a suicide bomber,'" Palazzi said.

The media has not done a fair job of covering the Mideast conflict, Palazzi said. "The media is one-sided in continuously blaming Israel without giving an account of what the responsibilities of the Palestinian authorities are," he said.

The University of Chicago Democrats, The College Republicans, the Muslim Students Association, Student Government Finance Committee, Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago Friends of Israel, the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group, the Hasbara Fellowships, and the Newberger Hillel Center co-sponsored the event.