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Palestine Awareness Week: Education and Dialogue

As organizers of the Palestine Awareness Week (PAW), we would like to clarify some of the issues and address the inaccuracies and omissions in Stephen Fried’s May 8 opinion piece (“The nth Annual Chomsky Rant in Bad Taste; Are We Moving Forward?”). The piece, which provides a good example of “ranting in bad taste,” suggests that PAW and similar educational activities are counterproductive obstacles to dialogue.

PAW is a week-long campaign to raise awareness on issues related to the Palestinian Question. PAW attempts to shed light on issues that are rarely discussed by mainstream media in the United States. By doing this, the organizers hope to provide the necessary background for an informed dialogue, and an on-campus venue for discussion. Lectures and movie screenings are usually followed by discussions in which students (including both Arabs and Israelis) and community members participate.

The week is organized by students of different nationalities and student groups who believe that ending the 42 year long illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is necessary for lasting peace and stability in the Middle East. The organizers are involved in many on and off campus initiatives and programs including OLPC Palestine, MISTI Israel, and MEET (Middle-East Education through Technology). Over the years, PAW events have been organized and sponsored by Palestine@MIT, the Arab Students’ Organization, the Muslim Students Association, Amnesty International (MIT Chapter), the Social Justice Cooperative, and the Latino Cultural Center, as well as members of the MIT faculty.

This year, PAW began with a lecture by MIT Professor Noam Chomsky on the U.S., Israel, and Palestine. While it is true that Chomsky speaks frequently about the conflict in the Middle East, this lecture focused on the role of the Obama administration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prospects for peace and change in the Middle East. The high turnout for the lecture seems to suggest great interest in the topic among members of the MIT community.

The second PAW lecture, which Fried fails to mention, was given by Anat Biletzki, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and a research fellow at the MIT Program for Human Rights and Justice. Biletzki has been active in the peace movement and in human rights projects in Israel for over 25 years. She is highly regarded among human rights activists and academics and was nominated among the “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005.”

Biletzki spoke about the relationship between human rights and politics and about human rights in the occupied territories, with a focus on the work of her organization, B’Tselem — the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which she chaired from 2001 to 2006. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Arab Students’ Organization, the Muslim Students Association, and Amnesty International (MIT Chapter).

Other PAW activities included an information booth and two movie screenings. The first movie (Occupation 101), which was indeed screened last year, is an award-winning documentary that provides an accessible introduction to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with a focus on the situation in the occupied territories. It discusses issues such as suicide bombings, the separation barrier, the restriction of movement, and other problems that define the everyday life in Israel-Palestine.

The second movie (Slingshot Hip Hop) tells the stories of up-and-coming hip hop artists living in Israel and the occupied territories. The movie explores underground aspect of Palestinian youth culture such themes as gender expectations, racial divides, generational differences, as well as the struggles of living with the Separation Wall, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the lack of freedom of movement caused by military checkpoints.

MIT Palestine Awareness Week 2009 expressed the organizers’ commitment to productive and educational discourse. Even more so than in previous years, PAW 2009 included a diverse collection of events that covered different aspects of the situation in Israel-Palestine. The organizers of this year’s Palestine Awareness Week would like to emphasize that the events held during PAW are meant to provide context and supplement, not replace, opportunities for dialogue.

Ammar T. Ammar ’09

Hussam A. Busfar G

Zekeriyya Gemici G

Lorenzo B. Brown ’10

On behalf of the PAW organizers