U.S. Aid Worker Discusses Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Peace negotiations cannot begin between Israelis and Palestinians until Israeli soldiers leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said an organizer for an international pro-Palestinian organization on campus Monday.

Adam Shapiro, who works with the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement, spoke in Dwinelle Hall as part of a program put on by the UC Berkeley Muslim Student Union and the Muslim and Arab Voter Registration Project.

"Our mainstream media is not providing the proper information in context about what is happening on the ground," Shapiro said. "Firsthand accounts and eyewitness accounts are probably the best source of information."

The movement sends internationals like Shapiro into the Gaza Strip and West Bank to provide humanitarian aid. It presently has approximately 20 internationals aiding Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Shapiro said.

Shapiro, a nonpracticing Jewish American, spent a day in Arafat's compound when it was surrounded by the Israeli military in March and lived in Ramallah for three years to aid Palestinians.

Shapiro advocated removing road blocks and breaking curfew as nonviolent means of "removing the tangible physical elements of occupation."

"We have to divide between those who want to continue the cycle of revenge and the majority of people who wish to have general peace and general freedom," Shapiro said.

Shapiro said he does not support the use of suicide bombings, which he called "morally wrong." Suicide bombings on civilians will have a negative impact on the future of Palestinian society, he added.

"I have no doubt Israelis fear for their lives," Shapiro said. "I have no doubt that they're afraid to go to movies, ride on buses, go to cafes. I empathize and sympathize with this fear."

But he supported the use of "strategic" attacks on targets like Israeli checkpoints.

"There was a time where checkpoints were targeted and where there were attacks against Israeli soldiers implementing checkpoints," he said. "I think that was a moment of strategy that happened. I wish there would have been more strategic use of the struggle."

Although the audience overwhelmingly supported Shapiro, some in the audience said his speech inaccurately portrayed Israel.

"Since I have family in Israel, I know firsthand what they're thinking and going through, and for him to make broad statements about Israel wanting to take over the West Bank made me very angry because I personally know that that's not true, and not everyone thinks that way," said UC Berkeley freshman Amit Caspi.

Other students said Shapiro's speech provided an important impetus for campus debate and discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I think there's a vicious attack on students everywhere on campuses today," said Osama Qasem, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. "There's a campaign to silence and stifle any debate about the issue."

Despite Shapiro's discussion of "armed struggle," suicide bombings and occupation, some students remained optimistic for a peaceful solution between Palestinians and Israelis.

"I think that there has to be two states," Caspi said. "They are two very different types of people with very different backgrounds, but they can live in harmony side-by-side as two states."


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