Ann Arbor, Mich.--Four hundred people (with over 100 more
turned away for lack of space) participated in the second annual National
Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement Oct. 12-14, sponsored
by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE).
Despite attempts by right-wing Jewish individuals and
organizations to prevent the conference from occurring, the event was a serious
open forum which brought together a mix of ideas, theories, analyses and
strategies. The main theme was to build a student movement whose primary goal is
to pressure universities to divest of companies doing business in and with
Israel, a strategy patterned after the movement of divestment from South Africa
in the early 1990s.
Israeli supporters of the Palestinian cause were welcomed
and featured. Two South African scholars, Mahdi Bray and Na'eem Jeenah, shared
their experiences from the anti-apartheid divestment movement a decade ago. Dr.
Ilan Pappe and Diane Buttu gave the opening keynotes.
They joined an array of noted Arab-American and Middle
Eastern scholars in presenting theories and lively debates about the historic
roots and nature of the Palestinian plight which took up most of the first day.
The next day smaller workshops addressed organizing and building a nationwide
campus movement for divestment from companies doing business with Israel.
Bush's looming war on Iraq was on the minds of everyone
present. Some participants drove 40 miles to Detroit to join a protest against
Bush's appearance at a Republican $1,000 a plate fundraiser before returning to
Ann Arbor for the closing lecture by attorney Shamai Liebowitz, a tank gunner in
the reserves of the Israeli army and a signer of "Courage to Refuse."
Scholarly research was closely linked to activities in
support of the Palestinian people, and speakers and participants seemed open to
a variety of ideas, including the very difficult concept in today's climate that
solidarity is the idea of Palestinian freedom and self-determination, and not
that of mere ethnicity or religion.
If this movement continues to hold fast to this vision of
solidarity based on freedom and justice, and refrains from focusing only on
divestment, it will be a model for the freedom movements of the 21st century.
--Susan Van Gelder
Published by News and Letters Committees