Mideast tension sparks discussion

by Kathleen McDermott | 10/20/00 5:00am

A day after a cease-fire reduced turmoil in the Middle East to scattered incidents of violence, a discussion led by Dartmouth history professor Ronald Edsforth was unable to endorse any single solution to the conflict.

Sparked in part by the renewed tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, the discussion, part of an ongoing series, focused on finding a just peace for the Middle East and the United States' role in the matter.

An Arabic woman from Lebanon opened the discussion, raising the question of justice. She said that the Palestinians feel they've lost their country and thus have nothing more to lose. The struggle is now the "struggle of a nation that has no nation."

On the question of peace, "let's deal with the nitty-gritty," a student said, suggesting some form of international control of Israel and an openness to creative solutions.

"What is a just peace?" is the only question in the matter, according to a participant self-described as a Muslim of Western European descent. To visualize and push for a just peace is fundamentally important, he said.

Raising another side of justice, a student from the United-Arab Emirates said that "to have a just peace, people need to be able to see both perspectives," yet "see how much backing the US gives Israel." One must see roles for all the players and have the proper perception to come to a just peace, he added.

Another student agreed that the United States is "definitely pro-Israel," but that that fact is not negative in itself. "The U.S. is not the only player," he said, as many Arab states are involved in the situation and bring balance to the equation.

However, another participant said that America has played a profound role in the Middle East for "decades and decades."

"We bought and argued our way in," the Muslim man said, and thus "we can't be too surprised when our ships get hit."

America does play a role, but it is limited, for "it's not our people," another student participant said, and no matter how much money we give, there might still be a point at which the leaders are not ready to negotiate.

Although all eagerly engaged in the rapid flow of comments, the discussion -- sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program -- had to be cut off after an hour. Professor of Religion Susannah Heschel invited all participants back to continue the discussion next week.

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