Last Saturday I attended a forum on “Building Peace between Israelis and Palestinians” at UBC’s Chan Centre. Kudos to the UBC Administration, and in particular to Stephen Owen, UBC’s Vice-President External and Legal, and his colleagues for organizing such a civil and necessary forum in collaboration with the “Peace it Together” organization.
It surely gives UBC a break from the latest shenanigans of the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and the embarrassment of being on a campus where students are throwing mud at each other. It is particularly painful when you are essentially a cultural byproduct of the Daniel Cohn-Bendit generation.
The (non) debate between Dr. Gershon Baskin and Dr. Sami Adwan was so dull –hard to believe when you are talking about two mid-easterners discussing anything let alone politics– that UBC student and fellow Governor Azim Wazeer decided to ask them at the end whether there is anything that the two of them don’t agree upon.
In a way, that was predictable considering that both talked about their personal stories, and about their work for peace in the Middle East. Adwan is a Palestinian professor of education at Bethlehem University, and Co-director of the Peace Research institute in the Middle East (PRIME), while Baskin is the Co-director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think and “do” tank in Jerusalem.
On the surface, the event looked liked a dialogue –or more like two monologues—between 2 mother Theresas. However, their distinctly different and contrasting styles were fascinating to watch, not because of who they are on the personal level, but for what each represented.
The bombastic self-assured style of Baskin (who lunched with Arafat and dined with Rabin) represented the proud, confident and forceful Israeli identity that started to take shape after 1948. The type of optimistic self-confidence that you are happy to see, and are reassured to have on the side of the peace hopefuls. His main premise is that a “two-state solution” is becoming a fait accompli, since dozens of countries have already started to acknowledge the Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders. He reported on his visit to Vancouver in today’s Jerusalem Post.
In contrast, the almost inaudible and subdued Adwan represented the little left in Palestinian pride, dignity, and survival after suffering 70 years of humiliation, discrimination and almost extermination by essentially every government between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arab gulf. It was heart breaking. When he wanted to say the word “lobby”, he could only mumble it to himself. It must be hard to shake off so many years of living in fear, wary of offending powers that control your existence on both sides of the fence (or is it a wall?).
Baskin cheered me whenever he spoke and gave me hope. Adwan depressed me and reminded me of the misery of that conflict. Yet, both were talking about the same things: Peace and how they are hoping to achieve it.
The questions period finally came and livened up the forum. Tough, to the point, and coming from Arab-Canadians, Israeli-Canadians, Indo-Canadians, and red headed Scottish Canadians. “How can you agree to be here talking about dialogue when the situation is so unjust and asymmetric?” “Why did you both avoid talking about Gaza, the elephant in the room?” ” Isn’t it an anti-Israeli policy of the Canadian government when it cuts funds for all peace-making organizations and networks?”
Then came a short movie made by teenagers around the world, including both Palestinians and Israelis, who attended the 2008 “Peace It Together camp” – a simple but poignant film.
Thank you to all those who organized this eye-opening even: One of the small, yet so important steps in the arduous journey towards peace.
Looked good in that video, Ryan!