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Club calls for peaceful solutions

By Alexis Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 2, 2003
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Joseph C. Watkins, associate math professor and faculty head of the UA chapter of Amnesty International USA speaks to students and community members about human rights issues dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

When former UA student Paul Snodgrass was denied entry into Israel three weeks ago, some said it was due to his ties to what they called a pro-Palestinian organization.

But members of the UA's Alliance for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, the organization to which Snodgrass belonged, say that while they are interested in giving Palestinians a voice, they are not a pro-Palestinian organization.

APJME is not pro-Palestinian and it's not pro-Israel. It's pro-reconciliation, said APJME president George Torrieri.

Near Eastern studies graduate student Carrie Brown said she started APJME last year with fellow student Noah Haiduc-Dale to promote awareness of Middle Eastern issues because she didn't feel all sides were being discussed.

"I felt there was nothing going on on this campus except very one-sided activities and events that address the issues," she said.

Last night, APJME hosted their first speaker this year: Joseph C. Watkins, an associate professor in the mathematics department and faculty head of the UA chapter of Amnesty International USA.

Watkins said that both sides are guilty of human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although Watkins' presentation was well received by the 40 people in attendance, not all of APJME's events have been so readily accepted.

Since the formation of APJME, there has been continued controversy over the role the organization plays on campus, as some worry that the group focuses on Palestinian viewpoints and creates a bias against Israel.

Bill Straus, director of Arizona's chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, based in Phoenix, said his office has received calls from Tucsonans who are concerned about the club.

But Torrieri, a physics graduate student, said anyone who fears APJME probably misunderstands them.

He said that while APJME has received a lot of attention for its positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that is not its only focus.

The approximately 30 APJME members say their primary goal is to educate UA students and Tucson community members on topics like the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Patricia Morrison, a music senior and APJME member, said that because many people are unaware of issues in the Middle East, they don't feel affected by them.

"My goal is to wake people up," Morrison said. "It has a direct connection to people's lives, and if anything, Sept. 11 should have brought that home that we are not an island."

Morrison said that through her involvement with APJME, she hopes to send the message that there are people committed to nonviolence on all sides and in all parts of the Middle East.

"We're really committed to nonviolent solutions to these problems,"she said.

In the past, APJME has sponsored events such as a debate on the war with Iraq and a Palestinian film series. Last year, it also co-sponsored guest speakers like Josh Ruebner of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, a Washington D.C.-based organization.

But the events have not all taken place without controversy.

APJME's Palestinian film series, which included a showing of "Jenin Jenin," a film banned in Israel, drew the attention of the ADL.

The film, directed by Israeli citizen Mohamed Bakri, depicts reactions of Palestinian residents of Jenin, a refugee camp, following the Israeli Army's Operation Defensive Shield.

The movie, 2002 winner of best film at Carthage International Film Festival, has been widely criticized and was banned by the Israeli Censorship Board. Criticism arose, in part, because of concerns that it included testimonies and re-enacted scenes that were not factually accurate and that gave a distorted view of Israeli military actions.

Just after last year's film series took place, Straus said, "It's a work of propaganda. The purpose is to fuel anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli sentiment."

While the film is not banned in the United States, Straus said he felt APJME misrepresented the film as a documentary.

Torrieri said APJME made it clear when introducing the film that they had no way of knowing how accurate it was.

"Whether it's a documentary or not, we showed it mostly because it was banned," Torrieri said. "It's a story that has to be told."

Torrieri said many people misunderstand APJME because the group is critical of the Israeli government.

"There is a disturbing tendency among many people to regard any criticism as being anti-Israeli," he said.

Torrieri said APJME is concerned with human rights issues on both sides of situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But APJME members say they are especially worried that Palestinians' human rights issues are not addressed often enough.

"They suffer more than anyone. They're the big losers in this situation," Torrieri said.

Some say that because the club focuses so much attention on Palestinian voices, it is no mystery why they are sometimes labeled pro-Palestinian.

"In my view, they are a very left-wing, pro-Palestinian group," said Charles Givre, former president of the UA's Arizona-Israel Alliance.

Givre said he thinks APJME, while trying to bring light to Palestinian issues, often neglects the Israeli side, making them less neutral than their name suggests.

Givre added that he doesn't think the organization does enough to condemn the violent actions like suicide bombings taken by some Palestinian organizations.

Torrieri said that APJME's statement of principles condemns suicide bombings, but said the group chooses to focus their events more on what he called "the plight of Palestinians" because it feels that is an underrepresented view.

Despite the differences between members of AIA and APJME, they are trying to work together this year.

APJME is arranging a panel discussion for sometime in November in which Palestinian students at the UA can share their personal experiences.

They have invited Israeli students from AIA and the Hillel Center to participate in the discussion as well.

Alison Orologio, president of AIA, said that despite APJME's criticism of the Israeli government, she thinks it is important to work with them in order to understand them better.

"We'd like to communicate with them more often even though we may not always agree with them," said Orologio, a political science junior.

Torrieri said he thinks it is important to work with organizations like AIA and Hillel when possible.

"We are perfectly happy to work with them as long as their event in question is not against what we believe," he said.

APJME's next speaker will be anti-war activist Senor Fernando Suarez De Solar, who lost a son in Iraq. He will speak about the War in Iraq on Monday at 6 p.m. in the Steward Observatory, Room N210.

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