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Panelists gather at Iowa City Public Library to discuss Israel-Palestinian peace

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | JANUARY 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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Past wars, history, and steps towards peace characterized a sometimes tense discussion regarding how Palestinians and Israelis can move toward a lasting peace.

Panelists and organizers of the event believe that while the conflict is thousands of miles away, its effect can be felt nationally and in Iowa City.

“This affects the Arabs and Jews who live here and everyone who is interested in how to achieve peace in an area that has struggled for years,” said Jefri Palermo, development coordinator for the University of Iowa School of Social Work. 

One of the panelists and her partner who gathered at the Iowa City Public Library on Tuesday evening focused on Israel’s contining to build settlements, which they described as “illegal” and a major obstacle to future peace.

“We need to achieve justice, then we can achieve peace,” said Loureen Dabeet, representing Seeds of Peace — a camp that focuses on bringing together youth from areas of conflict. “Justice is no settlements, no walls, and the right to return — where my grandma can go back to her house.”

One political expert said building settlements does not help lead to peace.

“Israel’s policy is to continue to extend settlements despite the fact that it is committed to a two state solution,” said Dhirendra Vajpeyi, a professor of political science at Northern Iowa. “New settlements don’t help, and they just harden the views of Palestinians.”

Vajpeyi said the Palestinians further complicate the situation with their divisions, which lead to unclear demands in peace negotiations.

“First, they don’t know what they want, and if they want to destroy Israel, it’s really idiotic and impractical,” he said.

Both sides debated over numerous aspects of the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which one of the panelists representing the Israelian viewpoint said would not lead toward progress to peace.

“Looking to the conflict form historical view and righting historical wrongs may make us feel good, but it doesn’t achieve much,” said Gerald Sorokin, the executive director of Iowa Hillel.

Despite Sorokin’s comments, panelists continue to invoke history in many of their arguments, including one panelist representing the Palestinian side who wanted a formal apology from an Israeli prime minster.

“Give me one government official that has admitted the agony for Palestinian people, give me one prime minster that has admitted the agony when they forced Palestinians to leave their homes,” said John Dabeet, president of Americans and Palestinians for Peace.

Both sides agreed the other had a right to exist and that they will continue to pursue peace. Such a dialogue was the goal of the organizer of the event.

“This is such a contentious issue that people get really emotional and feel like there’s no middle ground,” said Rachel Graber, student in the UI School of Social Work and organizer of the panel. “… You just have to display there are people who aren’t like that, and there is an avenue to peace if everyone just chills out and looks at things rationally instead of emotionally.”


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