One man’s quest for peace

After spending nearly 18 months living in areas of conflict along Israel’s West Bank, including a one-night stay in the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Adam Shapiro said Tuesday night Palestinians need to show greater unity in fighting Israeli oppression.

Such a statement alone might not raise eyebrows. The fact that Shapiro is Jewish and a Palestinian supporter certainly raises more than a few.

Shapiro said Israel’s “illegal” occupation of Palestinian lands continues to exist because Palestinians worldwide have failed to organize en masse against the better-organized Jewish population. He said a great handicap to the Palestinian independence movement is the fact that the public seems to support Israel.

“I think I’ve been a little hard on George W. Bush. I think all of us have,” Shapiro said. “But I have recently come to the conclusion that George W. Bush must be feeling like a Palestinian. I just saw on TV (Tuesday) George W. Bush on the news talking about, and complaining about, some of the media’s coverage about the war in Iraq, and that the media is only paying attention to the negative. And I can’t help but think to myself that this is exactly what I talk about when I talk about the situation in the occupied territory. The media only pays attention to Palestinian violence. They only seem to pay attention when there are Israeli victims, and they only seem to pay attention when something is affecting Israel.”

Shapiro said coverage in foreign media outlets was crucial to earning independence for Palestinians because public sentiment seems to favor Israelis. However, he said the apparent media bias is partially the fault of the Palestinians, and that Israeli officials are able to control information being shared with American newspapers because Palestinians are slow to release descriptions of Israeli acts of aggression.

It is with this in mind, he said, that he formed the International Solidarity Movement, which strives to keep not just America but the world informed on Palestinian suffering. Keeping the world informed goes beyond taking advantage of the media, though. Shapiro furthered his Bush analogy, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ignored some of Bush’s directives aimed at preventing further violence in the area.

Shapiro also said a significant misconception was that the Palestinian movement lacked a leader.

“People look at past civil rights movements and see figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi,” Shapiro said. “This movement may not have a strong central leader, but like the nonviolent rebellions of the past, it is dependent on more than one person. There are leaders all over in the streets of the cities affected. People put up with so much, and everyone involved is a leader.”

Shapiro spoke before a crowd of more than 200 Tuesday night in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom. The discussion drew an emotional response from the audience, which broke into applause on five occasions.

The first came at Shapiro’s mentioning of Sami Al-Arian’s name. Shapiro said Al-Arian’s firing and the subsequent handling of his case were unjust and that the situation displayed American prejudices.

Al-Arian was fired after he was arrested on nearly 50 counts of terrorism in February. Some criticized USF President Judy Genshaft for her handling of the former computer science and engineering professor, who she kept on paid leave for more than a year prior to his firing.

The second round of applause came when a woman identified herself as a Holocaust survivor. The applause quickly died, however, when she explained Palestinians had little room for complaint considering Jews endured what she thought was worse treatment during World War II.

Other bursts of applause came when an audience member declared supporting Israelis in the Middle East “un-American” and when a man shared the story of the Israeli government confiscating his identification and almost refusing him entrance into the country — despite his U.S. passport — when he could not provide the confiscated card.