Adam Shapiro (GRD ’97), an activist for Arab-Israeli peace through nonviolence, addressed the nature of the conflict in the iddle East, his experiences in Palestinian refugee camps invaded by the Israeli army during the past year and the prospects for peace in the region during a presentation Wednesday evening sponsored by Georgetown Students for Middle East Peace.

During outbreaks of violence between the two sides in April, Shapiro tried to persuade Israeli troops to allow ambulances into the surrounded refugee camps to treat the wounded, according to an April 4 Newsday article. Shapiro was arrested for being in a Palestinian area and was eventually deported from Israel in August. Shapiro, a Jewish-American, said that most Israelis and Palestinians favor peace and remain willing to coexist peacefully.

“I don’t know anybody I’ve ever met who isn’t for some sort of peace, but there is a paradigm through which we understand peace. When we break down the paradigm and look deeper, we see people on one side who first and foremost want freedom. This is where the majority of people are … both the Israelis and Palestinians together.”

Nonetheless, Shapiro said that extremists on both sides would accept peace only on limited terms, including the removal of the other side from the area. “On the other side, both Israeli and Palestinian, there are people who try to maintain the cycle of oppression and violence,” Shapiro said. “While this has been impacted by history and religion, the issue that needs to be dealt with immediately is occupation [of the West Bank by Israeli settlers]. And the violence has been furthered as a result of the occupation. It is quite sad that it is the people from both nations that are working hard to keep the occupation in place.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government was one Israeli government among several previous administrations that had been responsible for the occupation, Shapiro said. He underscored the need for Israelis to take responsibility for the occupation as citizens electing representatives in a democratic government. “Whether Israel is a democracy or not depends upon whether or not it answers to the people,” he said. He said that because citizens elect their representatives, they are responsible for the decisions that the government makes. “We can’t limit the responsibility of occupation to the government because it also belongs to the people,” Shapiro said.

At the same time, Shapiro said that Palestinians also share accountability for the occupation. “There are Palestinians who seek to maintain the oppression and the occupation. I know full well from speaking with activists, from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and [other] groups, that they know full well that the [Israeli] government wishes that these groups continue to terrorize the population. They know it and it is widely acknowledged that Sharon is constantly waiting for the next terrorist attack so that he can drop bombs and have the support of his people,” he said. “Yet these groups do it anyway.”

Shapiro explained the logic behind these suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. “The only way [groups like Hamas] can have power, the only way they can ever have influence over politics, is by blowing things up. It is very much in their self-interest,” he said.

Shapiro said there seemed to be an understanding between some Israelis and Palestinians. “The more you kill on this side, the more we will kill on that side and the more excuses we will have for continuing the oppression and not sitting down and talking about peace. And that peace is what most people want.”

Shapiro said that nonviolence was the one way in which Palestinians and Israelis could escape this negative cycle. “We have to find ways of breaking these cycles,” he said. “One of the ways we can do this is nonviolence, an initiative we have seen coming from the Palestinians and now more and more from the Israelis. [We need] nonviolent direct action to show the world and each side what is really happening on the ground.”

Shapiro noted the need for Americans to remain cognizant about their role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially since their tax dollars are being used to fund many of the American operations in that area of the world. “We have to influence Congress to put conditions on that money – so that it can’t be for Apache helicopters, or M-16s that are going to drop bombs on apartment complexes or Caterpillar bulldozers that are going to destroy homes and families,” he said.

Participating in nonviolence could also bring about needed reforms, Shapiro added. “If we can’t effect change there, then we have to effect change in other venues then one way to do that is to participate in nonviolence and say, `I am an American and I am against what [our government] is supporting.’ And if we stand up for the values that we aspire for, then we will find common agreement among each other,” he said.

President of Georgetown Students for Middle East Peace Brett Sander (SFS ’04) said the goal of the presentation was to create dialogue about the conflict in the Middle East. “He wasn’t inflammatory, and he described what he observed. But he was definitely someone with opinions and was willing to take a stand, which is important because it helps create a dialogue. For example, he took a stand when he said that the Sharon government didn’t want peace, and while I may or may not agree, it’s important for us to listen to a different point of view,” he said.

The goal of the organization, according to SMEP Vice President Rebecca Helmer (SFS ’05), is not to support a certain viewpoint but instead to offer students speakers with different perspectives on issues surrounding peace in the Middle East.

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