Why the Middle East is so close to home
Kats got your tongue
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
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