Author: Solvejg Wastvedt

Palestine-Israeli Conflict Sparks Debate

Regarding the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, most people would use the word “conflict.” However, at a panel discussion on April 29, speakers Asil Abuassba, Assistant Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Ibtesam âl-Atiyat and Northfielders for Justice in Palestine and Israel member Ruth Hansen pushed students to reframe how they think about the situation.

“Use the word ‘colonization’ instead of ‘conflict,’ because we’re not equal,” Abuassaba said.

The panel focused on correcting common misconceptions about the situation, ranging from this word choice conundrum to broader misunderstandings of historical events. Titled “Understanding Palestine: A Discussion of Life Under the Occupation,” the event was co-sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee and Oles for Justice in Palestine and also included discussion of resolutions to the violence.

“I will not divide up my identity according to some sort of map,” Abuassaba said, stating that the majority of Palestinians do not believe in a two-state solution “because we’ve lived it, and it doesn’t work.” Abuassaba expressed her support for a one-state plan in which “we are all living together equally.”

âl-Atiyat, however, presented an alternative solution: “Everyone recognizes Israel’s right to exist given certain conditions,” she said. She claimed that many people involved in the struggle, including Palestinian extremist groups, believe in the two-state option. However, she emphasized that this “right to exist” cannot be defined as it currently is by many pro-Israel groups.

“In order for Israel to exist and to declare this right to exist, Palestinians have to cease to exist,” she said. Referring to villages taken over by the Israeli army, she added, “Somebody decided that the history of an entire family should be erased.”

Before the panel got to these proposals for the future, though, they gave audience members a better undertanding of the the past. The discussion began with a brief history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and then âl-Atiyat launched into a more detailed backstory.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a modern conflict,” she said. “Jews and Arabs have never been in conflict, historically speaking.”

As âl-Atiyat explained, the two populations interacted peacefully until the rise of Zionism at the turn of the century. She traced Israel’s origins to 1917, emphasizing that the country was not created as a response to the Holocaust, but rather that the events of World War II gave the already-existing Zionist movement additional momentum.

Hansen, who has taken over 20 trips to Palestine, added an outsider’s perspective on the situation, further emphasizing the struggle’s recent origins.

“It’s the outside world, it’s the Zionists that really cause the trouble,” she said. Hansen went on to discuss her own experiences, where she witnessed Palestinians and Israelis living side by side and interacting peacefully. According to Hansen, the Zionist movement has stunted the Palestinian economy by making transportation of agricultural products through checkpoints impossible and diminishing employment opportunities.

As an international student who grew up in Palestine, Abuassba added a personal touch to the history lessons by sharing some of her own experiences. She explained the toll of Israel’s creation on Palestinian identity.

“[Zionism] means that there’s a chunk of history that has been replaced by Zionist narrative,” she said. “This is colonization. It’s actually replacing our entire narrative.”

Abuassba told how some Israelis living in former Palestinian villages know nothing about the historical displacement of Palestinians and how teachers can be sent to prison for teaching Palestinian history. More poignantly, she noted that some Palestinians cannot even refer to themselves as “Palestinians” for fear of repercussions.

“People start internalizing their own inferiority and inequality,” Abuassba said, noting that the Arab identity in Palestine has been reconstructed as that of an “enemy other” because of Israeli colonization.

Although stories like these provide a bleak picture of current-day life in Palestine, all three panelists expressed hope regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the situation. Hansen pushed students to take action and speak out against the Israeli occupation.

“Do you know how to call the president?” she asked, eliciting a few nods and some nervous laughter from the audience. “It’s easy. Dial 202-456-1111, and you’ll get somebody to talk to.”

Hansen told students to demand that their political leaders work for peace. Abuassba concluded the event with other practical suggestions, including boycotting Israeli products or companies that fund the Israeli military. She also suggested another vocabulary change, asking students to “use the word ‘colony’ instead of ‘settlement.'” The panel’s conclusion seemed to be that in the struggle for peace, purchasing power and word choice can all make a difference.

wastvedts@stolaf.edu

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Newt Gingrich focuses on the future: PAC speaker presents amid controversy over funding message

When Newt Gingrich stepped up to the podium in Boe Chapel on Thursday, April 10, the standing-room-only audience greeted him with enthusiastic applause.

“That’s a very warm welcome, and I was not quite sure,” he said.

Gingrich quickly moved on from this opening comment, claiming it was not due to protests occurring outside Boe Chapel, but it was hard not to interpret his statement in light of the on-campus controversy that had preceded his visit. Shortly after the Political Awareness Committee PAC announced Gingrich as its spring speaker, “Boycott Newt” posters appeared around campus. Plans also surfaced for an alternate event titled “General Assembly: Money in the Chapel, Students to the Quad.” Event organizers objected to PAC’s collaboration with the Young America’s Foundation YAF in bringing Gingrich to campus and to the increasing role that money plays in politics.

“We are paying an organization [YAF] run by a man who has brought about a disparaging twist in campaign finance,” organizers said in an open letter summarizing their position. “We do not all oppose conservatism. We oppose the increasing role of money in political campaigns, and we oppose hypocrisy.”

Organizers also doubted the relevance of Gingrich’s message.

“When Newt Gingrich says things like ‘There is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us,’ as he did in his presidential campaign, it obliterates respect and paves the way for manipulative politics,” event coordinator Brody Halverson ’14 said. “Gingrich may have been politically relevant 15 years ago, but [he] now appears to us as little more than an aging political celebrity, a lobbyist and a pundit.”

PAC coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 responded to these objections with a reminder that PAC works through agencies for all guest speakers.

“It costs less with an agency like this because they work with him regularly,” she said. “I can’t say specifically how much it cost, because if a school makes public how much they’re paying, then a school nearby can [negotiate for an identical price], but even with the agency’s contribution it still ended up being significantly less than Bob Woodward [2012 PAC fall speaker]. It was comparable to Stephanie Cutter [2013 PAC fall speaker].”

Palermo went on to emphasize the necessity of bringing diverse political opinions to St. Olaf.

“I think the point of college is to hear a wide variety of viewpoints,” she said. “We’re not a school affiliated with the Democratic party. I had more people be upset that people were upset he was coming. Republicans were saying, ‘We feel like our views aren’t as well-accepted here, so why can’t people at least let someone bring in a more conservative speaker without being upset about it?'”

Inside the chapel, Gingrich presented a version of that conservative viewpoint in his talk, titled “The Future of Conservatism.”

“My goal is to move conservatism from the left versus right model that has existed since 1932 to a future-past model,” he said. “I want to build a better future.”

Gingrich invoked examples of the individual creativity that he believes will drive that better future. He glorified the policies of Ronald Reagan that inspired his own 1994Contract with America document, a list of actions the Republican Party promised to take if it regained a House majority in that year’s Congressional election. He also praised the Wright Brothers for their perseverance and self-reliance.

“They were doing it because they had passion, and they were doing it because they wanted to create a better future,” he said.

Gingrich indicted government bureaucracy and partisan politics as “prison guards of the past” and impediments to the country’s progress. In a progressively more digital and fast-paced world, he said, the government’s inefficiencies become increasingly unacceptable.

“This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue,” he said. “It shouldn’t even be a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a future-past issue. The gap between the convenience of your cell phone and the inconvenience of the government becomes wider every day. I am opposed to reform because I think it’s a total waste of time. I want to replace these systems.”

During the question-and-answer session, Gingrich reiterated many of the positions that have made him such a controversial figure. A long line of students did not hesitate to address tough topics like climate change, reproductive rights and the role of money in politics. Gingrich offered direct, often blunt answers, once simply answering “sure” before going on to explain. However, the event remained respectful, and the closing applause gave Gingrich a send-off to match his welcome.

wastveds@stolaf.edu

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Phi Beta Kappa speaker discusses healing

Professor Christine Thomas, this year’s Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar, spoke on March 3 and 4 about her work in religious studies and archaeology. Thomas’s set of lectures, “Ordinary Bodies and Divine Intervention: Illness and Healing in the Roman Empire,” focused on ideas of health in ancient Greek and Ro man culture. Thomas is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

What would you say are the main differences between the ancient Greek and Roman conception of health and our current one?

Our understanding of illness and healing in the modern day is based on a model of invasion: The body is invaded by outside agents and needs to be defended against these attacks. This model is at the base of modern germ theory and treatment by antibiotics. The ancient Greeks and Romans were more concerned about harmony of the body with itself and the environment. When things went wrong, they believed it was a result of disharmonious equilibrium that needed to be corrected. These are the sorts of explanations of illness found in [ancient] literary sources. Archaeological materials [from rural Anatolia] tend to be more aligned with the model of invasion. [In these sources] illness is an outside event sent by a god, often because of a moral failing. One might look at our theories of illness as being primitive because we share them with rural Anatolians.

What did you find most interesting about these ancient healing practices?

I looked at votive offerings [from rural sanctuaries in Anatolia] to see whether their concept of body and healing was the same as what we found in more urban areas. The parts of the body they were interested in healing were arms, legs, eyes – the parts that work. The economically productive parts of the body. That was interesting: You wouldn’t go see the gods because you had a fever or a bad cold. You’d go see them if you actually couldn’t work. Additionally, the offerings are mostly from shepherds and farmers, people who don’t spend a lot of time on leisure and don’t read books. Yet the inscriptions are literate, they are correct. In an area with no cities, in the middle of the Roman Empire, people knew their letters and valued writing.

How do you think this topic relates to students today?

Mostly what I’m trying to do as the Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar is present original research in a way that helps people see how basic research in the humanities or sciences can be relevant to a number of questions and disciplines. I’m hoping that students

see my lecture as a model of inquiry and love of learning as a way of life, that nothing you learn is ever wasted and that different parts of your education can go together very well in answering particular questions. The subject is not the be-all and end-all. Part of the charm of working with ancient history, though, is bringing these sources to life, and that’s the other thing I hope they’ll draw: that the past really isn’t dead at all.

Your biography mentioned that you’ve been focusing on archaeology – what got you interested in that part of your field?

My involvement in archaeology was almost accidental. I have always been interested in ancient history, but what I had primarily worked on in my research was text. Partway through my dissertation, I got to spend time on an archaeological campaign in Ephesus. I [became involved in the field] mostly as a way of learning about how evidence is produced in archaeological fieldwork and museum collections. A lot of my archaeological work has been not only research but a continuation of my own education. For all of us, education doesn’t have to stop with our formal education. One of the great things about a good liberal arts education is that it gives you the tools to continue educating yourself throughout life.

What’s one exciting thing you’re working on right now?

I have stepped back from field work to try to put together a book for people in my own field about how to use archaeological and material culture in historical reconstruction. Right now I am mostly interested in thinking about how we can make the interpretation of material objects as complex and nuanced as that of literary texts. When we study a text, we know meaning is a social construct between what the author wrote and what the reader sees. Too often, we look at archaeological materials as just meaning one thing. They have qualities that are positive – you can measure and weigh them – but that doesn’t mean their meaning is necessarily determined. I am working on case studies to open up questions of interpretation and to show that it is possible to theorize about material culture.

wastveds@stolaf.edu

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Accident kills three Carleton students

On Friday, Feb. 28, an SUV carrying five Carleton students spun out of control on icy northbound Minnesota 3. The car went into the southbound lane, where an oncoming semi truck hit it broadside. James Adams ’15, of St. Paul, Minn.; Michael Goodgame ’15, of Westport, Conn. and Paxton Harvieux ’15, of Stillwater, Minn. died in the crash. The two other students – driver William Sparks ’15 of Evanston, Ill. and passenger Conor Eckert ’17 of Seattle, Wash. – were injured. Sparks was declared in satisfactory condition on Sunday, while Eckert remained in critical condition.

According to the Pioneer Press, the State Patrol did not detect alcohol in Sparks’s system or that of the semi driver, Terry Danny, 56, of Pioneer, Tenn. Danny was not injured in the collision. The State Patrol also ruled out speed as a contributing factor in the crash and noted that all five students were wearing seat belts.

The crash occurred just before 3 p.m., as the students were traveling to an ultimate frisbee tournament at Stanford University. Adams, Goodgame and Harvieux all played on Carleton’s ultimate frisbee team and majored in chemistry, political science and computer science, respectively.

In a written statement released to the Pioneer Press on Friday, Carleton President Steven Poskanzer spoke on behalf of the grieving campus community.

“The collective Carleton soul aches for the loss of these three young men,” Poskanzer said. “Right now, we need to focus all our love and compassion on supporting the families and friends of all these young men, along with everyone in our community who cares for them.”

Carleton College held a campus vigil for the students on Saturday at Skinner Memorial Chapel. Funeral services for the three men are being held this week in their hometowns. On Friday, March 7, Oles will be able to purchase Friday Flowers to be delivered to Carleton students’ P.O. boxes and submit notes to a box in Fireside Lounge. Additional information about services, memorial donations and condolences is available on the Carleton College website.

wastveds@stolaf.edu

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African-American women celebrated in Daughters of Africa

History lessons can be a little dry at times, and as a consequence many of us struggle to absorb all those names and dates. Mixed Blood Theater actress Thomasina Petrus overhauled that boring-history paradigm on Feb. 15 with a one-woman celebration of African American women’s impacts on United States history.

“Daughters of Africa” traced the lives of several well-known women, including Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey and Harriet Tubman, as well as less talked-about figures. Petrus’s remarkable vocal talent shone as she took on characters like Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Queen Latifah and gave each musician a unique, spot-on sound. The play was directed by Warren C. Bowles and written for the theater by award-winning playwright Syl Jones.

“Daughters of Africa” was co-sponsored by the Diversity Celebrations Committee and the Cultural Union for Black Expression CUBE as part of a series of Black History Month events. CUBE co-chair Lakresha Williams ’15 planned the performance to build on current discussions of race on the St. Olaf campus.

“We knew that a lot of Black History Month events would be racially focused,” she said, “so we thought that ‘Daughters of Africa’ would serve two purposes: to talk about race and to talk about gender.”

Williams enjoyed the performance for its entertainment value, too. “To have that one person do so many characters, you felt like you really got to know her,” she said. “I appreciated the performer as well as the performance.”

Mixed Blood Theater is a Minneapolis-based professional, multi-racial theater company. The group promotes cultural pluralism and social change with their productions, which are open to all income levels through a “radical hospitality” free admission policy. The theater was founded in 1976 and today produces a variety of culturally-specific shows that tour schools, libraries and other community centers in the region.

moes@stolaf.edu

wastveds@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: SOLVEJG WASTVEDT/MANITOU MESSENGER

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