Gaza panel draws large crowds

Friday, January 30, 2009

A 300-strong crowd turned out in MacMillan 117 last night to hear a panel of Brown faculty and alums address the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The event, “Gaza: Implications and Reconceptualizations,” was organized by the student group Common Ground and brought together academics and experts from a wide range of disciplines. Scholars in anthropology, history, Judaic studies, French studies and comparative literature discussed the roles of the media, international humanitarian law and the United States in the conflict.

Each participant discussed a facet of the conflict for about 10 minutes and then fielded questions from audience members. Professor Emeritus of History Abbott “Tom” Gleason moderated the seven-member panel.

Critical of the media’s role in and coverage of the conflict, Professor of Anthropology Catherine Lutz said there was more to the war than military gains or losses. “Contemporary war is waged as a campaign of public relations,” she said.

During her portion of the talk, Lutz argued that a harsh “us versus them” style of reporting often portrays force as the necessary solution in situations like the Gaza conflict.

Chelsea Sharon ’06, a student at Harvard Law School and a former member of Common Ground, discussed the role of international humanitarian law – which distinguishes between military and civilian targets to protect the latter from military action – in the conflict.

“It is crucial to have some benchmark of rules,” Sharon said, adding that many principles of humanitarian law are being violated in Gaza.

Associate Professor of Judaic Studies Maud Mandel spoke about the deteriorating relations between Muslims and Jews in Europe as a result of the conflict in the Middle East. She noted an increase in tension and violence between these groups throughout the continent, and in France in particular.

Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75, a distinguised visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, discussed the Bush administration’s historical involvement in the Gaza conflict and its impact on the war in Iraq. Yishai Blank, visiting associate professor of international studies and a senior lecturer at Tel-Aviv University, offered an Israeli perspective, addressing the country’s dilemmas and questioning whether the conflict should be “legalized and internationalized.”

While one of Common Ground’s goals was to bring diverse viewpoints to the panel, attendee Reem Yusuf ’09 said she felt the panel “needed a Palestinian point of view.”

“There was something missing,” she said.

But event coordinators Joanna Abousleiman ’09 and Alex Ortiz ’09 said they were pleased with the evening’s packed house.

“The large turnout showed an interest in the Brown community about this issue,” Abousleiman said.

Common Ground hopes to organize a film festival and bring more speakers to campus in the future to increase awareness and discourse about the conflict, Ortiz said.

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