The Jewish Journal November 23, 2001
Peace institute Holds Teach-in: 'Finding Peace in Justice'
Special to the Jewish Journal
The Peace Institute, organized by several faculty members at Salem State College, hosted a forum on Nov. 10 at which four speakers discussed their political views on the Middle East. Notably, none of the speakers invited represented a pro‑Israeli opinion.
Irene Gendzier, professor of Political Science at Boston University, expressed her outrage at the United States involvement and the support of multi‑national corporations in the Middle East. "These policies have been devastating," she said, referring to globalization. Gendzier also commented at length about the public's apathy about international policies in general, and Middle East politics in particular; apathy that she said was present before the tragic events of Sept. 11. She also expressed the opinion that the United States public, even at times when it does express interest in the Middle East, limits its interest to the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict, instead of caring about the region as a whole.
She also argued that the US government has not been forthright with the reasons for its involvement in the Middle East. "The oil story is a global story," she said, suggesting that the United States policy in the region has often been dominated by economic interests on the pretense of human rights concerns.
In agreeing with Gendzier's view, another speaker, George Cappacio, a freelance writer who has visited Iraq numerous times, showed pictures on a slide projector of various Iraqi people in distress. He showed a graphic picture of one Iraqi child dying from cancer, and of another child with numerous birth defects. He said that the economic sanctions that we have imposed under the excuse of human rights and national security are actually hurting the people. "The cynicism behind these policies is mind‑boggling," he said, "It's just to manipulate public opinion. We reigned down all this death and destruction upon Iraq." Cappacio called the sanctions genocidal.
Then he went even further. On the same slide projector on which he displayed pictures of Iraqi children he showed excerpts of the United States Code defining terrorism and went on to argue that the US policies towards Iraq fit that definition. He also claimed that the US government violated the Geneva Convention by targeting the well‑being of civilians by placing the embargo on Iraq. "If George Bush were serious about combating terrorist, he would start with arresting his father," he remarked.
Another speaker, Amer Jubran, who is a Palestinian refugee and political activist from Jordan, also blasted the United States policies towards the region commenting that "the US role has shifted from indirect control to direct control." Jubran additionally argued that CIA involvement in revolutions in Arabic countries has brought devastation in the region.
When addressing the Israeli‑ Palestinian conflict, Jubran said, "The problem that we have with Palestine is with Zionism." He contended that while Jewish people have a right to be in the region, they should not be allowed to deny those with Arabic descent citizenship based on their ethnicity. When asked about the suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, Jubran maintained that various Israeli military strikes amounted to terrorism also. Jubran went on to quote Isaac Newton's Third Law (for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction), alluding to it to demonstrate his point that the terrorism is a direct response to the injustice which Arab's had to endure.
The final speaker was Barbara Hildt, a peace activist and Massachusetts State Representative from 1983 to 1993. Given that what is at stake are highly contested topics, she commented that she is glad that she lost the election for Congress in 1992, since she could not stay true to her beliefs of seeking non‑violent resolutions and to the public opinion simultaneously. Hildt stressed that the people of this country have "a moral obligation to enter into a dialogue" so that alternatives to war can be discussed.
"Our members of Congress need to know that not everybody is in support of the military actions," Hildt," said.
The Peace Institute is sending a petition to Congressman John Tierney (D‑Sixth District) demanding "an end to the cycle of violence, and to the killing of human beings in the name of any ideology." "The attacks should not be an excuse to bring about more death, terror and suffering," the petition goes on to read.
The reactions to this forum were mixed, as one of the audience members, Elaine Bakal, remarked that while she "was impressed with the first speake r's [Gendzier] interesting provocative and objective presentation," she was concerned that other aspects of the forum were one‑sided.
As for Sharlene MacDonald, Salem State College junior, who helped organize the forum, she was pleased that some of the more controversial views were given an outlet. "We got into a lot more dialogue than expected," she said, "We got the minority side of the issue represented."
For MacDonald, who got involved in the Peace Institute only within the past two months, as for many others, the issue of Middle East politics became an important one after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Salem State College is now set to offer a non‑credit seminar on the subject in the Spring of 2002.
The mission of the SSC Peace Institute states:
The Peace Institute is an academic and student oriented program to serve members of the college and surrounding communities in their efforts toward establishment and maintenance of peace in the world. The Peace Institute was founded in 1982 by Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Edward Meagher.
For more information, check the website at www.salemstate.edu/peaceinstitute .