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Students take on conflict in Mideast

December 02, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG - As some citizens of their countries fight a battle marked by suicide bombings and occupation grievances, Palestinians and Israelis sat together at a table in Martinsburg on Friday night, passing around a microphone and notes, sharing ideas and answering questions.

More than half a dozen graduate students from the Middle East discussed the Israel-Palestine conflict during a two-hour community forum at Calvary United Methodist Church. More than 30 people attended the forum.

All Palestine wants is a viable independent state and the rights and security that come with it, said Palestinian Mahmoud Al-Neirab, who was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

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Sitting next to him, Yaron Shukrun, from Israel, said that because of the conflict Israel's economy has slumped, tourism has declined and one out of five Israelis is living below the poverty line.

"You can only imagine the fear that an Israeli citizen is feeling," he told the audience. "He cannot go outside to his favorite restaurant because he might be killed by a suicide bomber."

Shukrun said he understands Al-Neirab's position.

"The occupation is bad. It needs to be stopped," he said.

While serving a six-year stint in the Israeli army as an intelligence officer, Shukrun said he witnessed human rights violations against Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. However, he said no justification exists for the suicide bombings, which have killed Israeli citizens and children.

"Only nonmilitary means can defeat terror," he said.

Looking out to the audience, he said all Americans have a stake in what happens in the Israeli-Palestine area which, combined, is about the size of New Jersey.

U.S. tax dollars have maintained and fueled the conflict, which some people may not realize, Shukrun said.

"I see the U.S. as a very good and loyal ally of Israel," he said. "Sometimes a good ally and friend should help, should direct his ally and help him ask the right questions about the things he is doing."

Orli Fridman, who described herself as a secular Israeli, said she never met a Palestinian until she went to college in Jerusalem. The word "occupation" is not in the average Israeli's lexicon, she said.

She said she believes many Israelis make a choice to be uninformed about what's happening in Palestine.

"We are committing war crimes almost," she said.

Palestinian Husam Jubran said he and his wife are expecting a baby girl. The decision to conceive was difficult, he said, because children in Palestine see mostly blood and death, hatred and frustration.

Jubran said 60 percent of Palestinians and Israelis want to live peacefully side-by-side.

Although an advocate for peace, Jubran said he does not condemn violent acts of Palestinians as long as they are directed at Israeli soldiers.

"We have the right to resist the occupation," he said.

A local businessman and professor at Montgomery College said the speakers earned his respect by touching on all the issues critical to the conflict.

"The issues involved are not hard to understand," said Israeli Aram Hessami.

They include the plight of Palestinians, segregation and injustices, acts of terror, bias in the media and foreign policy, security and land, he said.

"Peace is better than war," Hessami said, adding that accomplishing it is the challenge. "To move from the ideal to the real is where the task is."

At the end of the forum, Fridman pointed to the panelists sitting around her and said it is the citizens of Israel and Palestine who will resolve the conflict.

"No one else will save us," she said. "Not the Europeans. Not the Americans. No one."

The event was moderated by state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley County.

Since Wednesday the men and women at the forum have been meeting at Ezekial's Place Retreat Center in Back Creek Valley, W.Va., building trust and discussing solutions to the conflict, Unger said.

Israeli Adina Friedman said members of the group, surprisingly, argued only a little.

"We have all this energy we wanted to funnel in a positive direction," she said. "It's been a very fruitful few days."

All of the panelists come from some sort of activist background, she said.

"They're going to be the future," Unger said. "They're going to be the peace-builders."

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