March 31, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 95  

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Why the Middle East is so close to home

Kats got your tongue
Laura Katsirdakis

News Editor

With all the conflicts occurring worldwide, why is the Palestinian/Israeli one so prevalent and heated on Canadian campuses? To attempt to find an answer, I interviewed Mat Abramsky of the Israel Action Committee, and Randa B. Mouammar of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.

It is not as distant as it seems. Abramsky brings a friend along to our interview. He introduces him as Yon Goldberg, a Western student whose uncle was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Israel a few weeks ago. Goldberg tells me his uncle simply got on the wrong bus on the way to work.

“It’s on campus because we’re on campus,” Abramsky explains. “Almost all students in IAC have a direct connection to Israel.”

Mouammar explains that the conflict is not distant for her either. Her sister and mother are not allowed to return to their home. “Most Palestinians who have left Israel had their citizenship revoked.”

She also tells me of her cousin’s death. “They never mention when Arabs die in suicide attacks.”

It is exasperated by several factors. Mouammar points out that the issue is more black-and-white in Canada than with Palestinian and Israelis in the affected area. There are many different groups on each side; it is not just two monolithic Palestinian and Israeli groups, she says. For example, in Israel there are many Israeli human rights groups vocal about the awful conditions the Palestinians live in, but if the same criticisms are made in North America it is seen as anti-Semitic slander against Israel.

Abramsky explains the exasperation of the issue this way: “We try to educate [but] when you try to give someone information they have to choose how to hear it. If I bring a speaker in, [the media] interviews both sides — why? [The] media draws the line [between the two sides], not us,” he says.

It is an emotional issue. “Four generations of Palestinians [were] born and died in a camp; they have required international protection for 60 years — [today] they have less land, less rights and the rate of death for Palestinian men is [very high]. After 60 years it’s getting worse — that lights a fire under your ass,” Mouammar says.

She adds that there is a mentality prevailing on both sides that the other side is out to get them. This paranoid mentality makes the issue more emotionally charged.

Mouammar explains that the Birthright program, which offers students a chance to go to Israel, can be hurtful to Palestinians. “[We] have family in Israel and we’re not allowed to return — people are only allowed to return if they are part of a particular group; this is discriminatory and racist.”

But allowing any Jewish person access to Israel, while it is hurtful to those who are denied access despite their assertion they have a valid claim to it, is a major part of what Abramsky sees as one of the best things about Israel.

“I know if I ever have a problem for any reason I have a place to go,” he says, adding many countries have strict regulations for which refugees will be permitted, but Israel accepts all Jewish people as immigrants.

The IAC, he says, is all about protecting Israel. “That country represents a lot of things to us —[it] represents our identity.”



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