Activists Gather in Arlington

“Activists Gather in Arlington”
by Staff Reporter Chris Bradshaw

BROADSIDE (George Mason University; Arlington, Virginia)
September 10, 2007

Representatives from nearly 50 interfaith and human rights organizations across the country convened this weekend at the Arlington campus of George Mason University.

The event had multiple objectives: to strengthen networks, discuss advocacy strategies to increase public awareness of their cause and to put pressure on American politicians not to support policies that, according to them, continue to enable Israeli armed forces to occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel seized these Palestinian territories after its victory in the Six-Day War of 1967.

The conference was hosted by the Mason Students for Justice in Palestine and financed by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

“SJP has a mission, like that of the USC, which is concentrated on educating our membership, and the GMU community at large, about the ongoing Israel and Palestine conflict,” said Bushra Nusairat, president of the SJP. “Our goal on this campus is to disseminate correct information about the plight of the Palestinian people and to be the voice of the underrepresented. We hope that this conference will enable us and other organizations to better understand how we can mobilize our membership, exchange resources, and create coalitions to better achieve our goals.”

Professor Richard Rubenstein, a professor of conflict resolution and public affairs with Mason’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, was invited to the conference to serve as moderator.

“It is a great honor to be here,” said Rubenstein in his opening statement. “I can’t welcome you officially on behalf of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, because my institute doesn’t endorse causes, even when many of us favor them. But I want to welcome you anyway, as myself, and give you a personal endorsement, for whatever it’s worth.

“Trying to understand conflict in the Middle East without recognizing that the [Israeli] occupation is a primary, if not the primary, cause of conflict in that part of the world is to go at variance with the principles of conflict resolution as I understand them.”

Rubenstein also stressed the importance of respecting the basic needs and rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.

“Peace does not come to any part of the world in which one side imposes a solution on the other.”

Friday’s opening session saw speakers from Canada’s largest union (CUPE), the Concerned Iowans for Middle East Peace, and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. A full weekend of panels and lectures included a proposed framing of the Palestinian struggle as apartheid.

Joe Ruebner, the Master of Ceremonies and Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator of the USC, took time to praise Virginia Congressman Jim Moran for his numerous legislative efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people. The congressman was not present, but did offer a written statement:

“Peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is a moral imperative and strategic necessity our nation must pursue. That peace, however, will be out of reach until the Palestinian people are afforded a sovereign state.”

Following the reading of Moran’s statement, Ruebner announced his intention to have an award recognizing Moran’s efforts presented to him on Monday, when the conference will go to Capitol Hill to lobby for their cause.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, many pro-Israeli blogs and websites buzzed with outrage at Mason for permitting the conference to take place on their campus.

Lee Kaplan, a pro-Israeli blogger, argued that the USC’s real goal was not the liberation of Gaza and the West Bank, but the complete dissolution of all Israel. Kaplan, among others, tried to convince Mason not to host the conference, but was unsuccessful.

“We’d really like to thank the university for standing up for the principles of free speech,” said Ruebner.

Due to security concerns, additional campus police were on standby at the assembly. However, as of press time, there have been no reports of incidents breaking out, and no demonstrators even appeared at the conference.

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