Barkan makes Israel's case

by Tracy Landers | 4/25/02 5:00am

Nimrod Barkan, the former minister of public affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., presented the Israeli government's perspective on the Middle East crisis during a speech last night in Dartmouth Hall.

For anyone who didn't have a clear picture of Israeli-Palestinian relations since 1992, Barkan's knowledge and eloquence on the subject were enlightening. While Barkan responded to questions about Israeli human rights violations, that controversial issue was not the focus of his message.

Barkan reflected on the background of the current developments, emphasizing the importance of the Oslo Accord of 1992. Looking back, Barkan said that although he supported Oslo at the time, he now doubts whether Israel should have supported those peace negotiations.

"The differences between us [Palestinians and Israelis] are too wide and too deep," Barkan said of the reasons why former prime minister Ehud Barak's "generous" peace proposals at Camp David in 2000 were unsuccessful.

Although Barkan was informed that Barak would be visiting Dartmouth next week only hours before his speech, he told students to, "ask Barak why did we agree to offer complete peace all at once" at Camp David in 2000. He said, "maybe we should have continued with a more gradual process."

Barkan put the current situation in the context of a larger pro-Israeli context, stating that his government wanted to make peace in the past but that the escalation of terrorism from 1999 to the post-Sept. 11 era made negotiation impossible.

"We simply couldn't take it any more ... we will not allow [Palestinian terrorists] to remain immune. After Sept. 11 we have a responsibility to stop terrorism."

Barkan hit home for many audience members with a comparison of America's reaction after Sept. 11 to Israel's reaction after the Passover bombing in Jerusalem and the pizza-parlor bombing in Haifa.

There is "no difference between al-Qaida and Palestinian terrorist groups," he said. He questioned why the whole world -- specifically Western Europe -- was not as supportive of Israel as compared to the United States.

After experiencing America's reaction to Sept. 11 firsthand from an airport in Miami, Barkan said the Israeli people felt the same sense of unity in adversity. Although there have been pro-peace rallies in Israel, Barkan said polls showed 85 percent of the population supports the current military actions.

Addressing the issue of possible human rights violations by Israeli troops, Barkan reduced his focus to the refuge camp of Jenin. Though he said he was concerned with what happened there, he does not think innocent people were killed.

"Jenin wasn't a refugee camp anymore ... everyone was a soldier." He described the site of Israel's most intense fighting as "a military base." Compared to the amount of property damage done, Barkan said he thought relatively few people were killed.

One of Barkan's main concerns was that the United Nations fact-finding commission on the Jenin massacre should not simply "focus on the humanitarian suffering without looking at the military reasons for the invasion."

Barkan offered very little criticism of his government's actions, instead emphasizing the positive results of the military campaign.

"If Israel hadn't responded to suicide bombings there would be more suicide bombings," he said.

Barkan spoke about the current crisis in terms of yet another conflict in an ongoing war of attrition with no ultimate deadline. He did not offer any optimistic message of peace or easy solution to the problems that have been his life work for the past 20 years.

"This is not a TV movie, it doesn't end at 11. It is a war of attrition [that] could last 10 years, 15 years, who knows? What is our alternative? Walk away? Go home? There is no such alternative."

"We have to be strong enough to maintain our demand for cease-fire," he added.

With a purpose to educate "tomorrow's leaders," Barkan came to Dartmouth to give a different perspective on the Israeli-Palestine than students may get from the media.

"We [Israel] get a fairly good shack from print media in the U.S.," Barkan said.

He said the electronic media tended to be less balanced than publications such as the New York Times because it avoids asking difficult questions.

Barkan was invited to speak yesterday by the Dartmouth Israel Public Affairs Committee, a staunchly pro-Israeli student group.

"We want to address the hard issues of the Middle East in a calm coherent setting," DIPAC Vice President Michael Sevi '02 said. He said he thought this venue was "so much more productive than shouting on the steps of Collis."

While many members of the half-full Dartmouth Hall were involved in Jewish organizations, the room was filled with a variety of opinions. Audience members such as Jesse Foote '01 emphasized the importance of not ignoring human rights violations despite Barkan's pro-Israeli message.