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ISSUE 121 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/9/2008

Anniversary marks injustice

By Lainie Cassel
Contributing Writer
and Ben Swenson
Visual Director

Friday, May 9, 2008

This week marks the 60th anniversary of a momentous event in the Holy Land. It marks the point in time when, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe argues, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land in an effort of ethnic cleansing. It has been 60 years since people and towns were wiped off the map, creating a refugee crisis that currently affects over 6 million refugees. All over the United States this "momentous event" is being celebrated as the independence of Israel. However, as Israel celebrates, the people of Gaza and the West Bank are suffering in what many call one of the most ignored humanitarian crises of the last century. 1948 may mean independence to Israel, but to the Palestinians it is "al-Nakba," an Arabic word for "the catastrophe."

Sixty years since al-Nakba, the Palestinians are still suffering as a direct result of illegal Israeli policy bolstered by the full support of our government. We feel that this situation, now deemed an "Apartheid state in Occupied Palestine" by notable figures such as former President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many Israeli politicians, deserves and indeed needs our attention more than ever. Just as all reasonable and respectful people sought to end the human rights abuses in Apartheid South Africa, it is necessary for our community to examine the situation of Israel-Palestine to the same degree. Unfortunately, dialogue on the conflict is nonexistent in Congress as well as in the mainstream media. The complicated façade of this conflict in rhetoric has resulted in complacency and indifference.

A recent report by John Dugard, the U.N. Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on Palestine, concluded that Israel has been committing human rights and international humanitarian law violations for over 40 years of occupation. The list of violations is long and most notably includes the construction of "illegal settlements, checkpoints, demolition of houses, torture, closure of crossings and military incursions, the separation wall (since 2003), sonic booms, (stepped up) targeted killings, (using) Palestinians as human shields, and the humanitarian crisis" in Gaza since Hamas was democratically elected in January 2006.

For decades the United States has supported the illegal occupation of Palestine by sending close to $3 billion annually to fund the Israeli military. Our tax money funds bullets, bulldozers, F-16 jets and weapons used by the Israeli military. In the last four months, these weapons have been used for the siege on Gaza where over 100 women and children were killed during a raid on their homes. As citizens of a democracy who care about human rights, it is our obligation and responsibility to become informed about the actions of our government. College campuses across our country have called for boycotts and divestment initiatives in order to play their role in pressuring our government in a way to parallel the movement to end Apartheid South Africa.

By reading U.S. news and media, one may understand Israeli's aggression as a fight against terrorism and Muslim extremists -- when in fact U.N. Special Rapporteur Dugard concluded that Palestinian terrorism is the "inevitable consequence" of Israeli occupation. Of course terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language, but we must also examine the root causes of all forms of violence resulting from environments of oppression, poverty and misery. We can understand violence, unrest and resistance as a reaction against larger root issues of occupation, injustice and the denial of fundamental human rights. A lasting peace can only come about when basic rights are given to the Palestinians, rights that have been systematically denied them for 60 years with little protest from the international community.

Correcting the human rights abuses against the Palestinians can only begin once our communities are aware of the grave injustices caused by the longest illegal occupation of the 20th century. The continued suffering of the Palestinians is a direct result of the tacit consent of U.S. citizens for the support of unjust Israeli policies. Only when a community becomes informed can a constructive dialogue take place.

So please join us in becoming informed so as St. Olaf students we can play our necessary role in peace.

For alternative facts and views, please visit these U.S. and Israeli websites: electronicintifada.net and btselem.org.

And if you are interested in getting involved or learning more you can join our group Oles for Justice in Palestine. Please contact swensonb@stolaf.edu or cassel@stolaf.edu.

Ben Swenson '08 is from St. Paul, Minn. He majors in studio art and sociology-anthropology with a concentration in Middle East studies. Lainie Cassel '08 is from Chicago, Ill. She majors in political science with a concentration in Latin American studies.





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