Monday, November 7, 2011

Scholars talk Palestine | University of Virginia: The Cavalier Daily

Professors analyze Israeli-Palestinian conflict at interdisciplinary symposium

By Elizabeth Heifetz, Senior Writer
on November 7, 2011

The history department hosted an interdisciplinary symposium Saturday about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948, focusing on the situation’s historical and legal context.

Susan Akram, a clinical law professor at Boston University, began by discussing the similarities between Palestine’s and Namibia’s struggles for statehood.

She compared the different ways law provides a framework for statehood, including whether or not independence is a precursor for statehood. Akram said statehood has four requirements: a permanent population, stable government, territory and permission to enter in negotiations with other states.

Presently, Palestine satisfies all elements of statehood except for independence, Akram said. “Palestine had no strategies linking their actions in obtaining independence,” she added.

Politics Prof. William Quandt responded to Akram’s claim.

“Palestinians have every right and reason to think that they are entitled to statehood, though the problem has nothing to do with legal strategy,” he said. “Even if they were to have a great legal strategy, they still wouldn’t succeed.”

Quandt said this is the result of Israeli and American influence, especially on compromises and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

The United Nationals General Assembly and Security Council have been in a perpetual state of conflict about this issue, leaving the bid for Palestinian statehood uncertain, he explained. “No one is prepared to put any weight behind it.”

Other professors offered a historical perspective to compliment the analysis of contemporary politics.

Rochelle Davis, assistant anthropology professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, discussed the ways communities think of the past, focusing primarily on Palestinian village books.

“There are two reasons why they write these books: the desire to keep sentiments and memories alive, and the connotation of what it means to be a Palestinian today,” Davis said.

Davis said the villages’ histories and the village books are part of the lives of Palestinian refugees today.

More than 120 village memorial books about the 400 plus Palestinian villages which were depopulated and largely destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War have been published, she said. “These documentary histories serve as proof that these villages existed and were more than just a place once on a map,” Davis said.

Gabriel Finder, associate German professor and Jewish Studies program chair at the University, compared the Palestinian village books to the concept of “yizkor,” which means remembrance in Hebrew. He described how history is recorded in the absence of written sources, refugee remembrances of home and ways of commemorating the past in the present.

Alon Confino, history professor and conference organizer, referred to yizkor again in a panel session titled, “The Coast of Tantura: 1948 and After.”

Confino said he believes more equality will reduce present-day Arab-Israeli tensions and improve Arab integration into Israeli society, making it easier to shape collective memory.

Professors analyze Israeli-Palestinian conflict at interdisciplinary symposium

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