Academics urge creation of Palestinian state |

Academics urge creation of Palestinian state

Dan BurkhartMore than 80 people attended a discussion on the Middle East conflict at the United Methodist Church in Grass Valley Sunday. Panelists were (from left) Michelle Stowell, David Mande'l, Matt Weiss, Steven Meinrath, and Akef Shihabi.
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Israel should pull back and allow the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, a panel of Sacramento-area scholars with ties to both sides of the conflict told a Grass Valley audience Sunday.

With the Mideast seeing some of the bloodiest fighting to date since the Six-Day War ended in 1967, members of the Middle East Peace Project said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s failure to negotiate is killing the Jewish state and doing undue harm to innocent Palestinians.

“Part of his present-day M.O. as prime minister is to shake things up,” said Matt Weiss, a Mideast expert who spoke as part of a panel at a packed United Methodist Church. “He does not have a plan for compromise and resolution.”

The conflict, which in past weeks has pitted Palestinian suicide bombers against a powerful Western-backed Israeli army, has taken scores of lives during a time considered holy for Jews.

President George Bush has demanded a pullout of Israeli troops as both sides look for a solution.

Part of the problem, many of the speakers said, is Israel’s unwillingness to give up authoritative control over settlements Palestinians occupy – and resistance by Israel to honor peace accords giving Palestinians some of the land they believe to be theirs since biblical times.

Israel became a sovereign nation in 1948; much of the present conflict stems from the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967.

Akef Shihabi, a Palestinian refugee and a member of the peace project, said Palestinians have been undermanned since the beginning of the conflict.

From 1986 to 1990, for example, Palestinians used rocks as weapons.

“They had no government,” he said, “and they began throwing stones at the Israeli army, one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.”

According to statistics compiled by the group, Israel has 3,900 tanks, 275 helicopters, 435 fighter planes and 9,600 artillery units to fight the suicide bombers, most of whom don’t remember a world without a Jewish state.

“When you’re desperate, you use desperate measures,” Shihabi said.

And despite several olive branches extended by both former President Bill Clinton and what Shihabi termed “humiliating” offers of land by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, “we still want to be on the same level as Israel. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Steven Meinrath, a Sacramento attorney and the chairman of the Israel Affairs Committee of Congregation B’nai Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in Sacramento, said Sharon “has taken the situation to a position as out of control as it has ever been.

“One country occupying another country is wrong morally and wrong socially,” said Meinrath, whose Jewish ancestors were in Germany during World War II. It’s not hard to recognize what’s going on as wrong, he said.

“What is very hard is the feeling that this is being done by Jews,” he said. “I’m taught that Judaism doesn’t teach this barbaric activity.”

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