Marie’s Palestine Journal: Haifa University

Marie Campbell is a retired University of Victoria professor who left on December 12, 2002 to spend a month in Palestine doing observational work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Observers from Europe and North America act not only as witnesses, but also provide a measure of protection and emotional support to Palestinians.

Haifa – December 17, 2002 at 6 a.m

International conference on “Democracy and Terror” at Haifa University, Israel. Preparing to leave for Palestine and training in Ramallah.

I’m sitting this morning at a desk in the Youth Hostel in Carmel, near Haifa. From my window, when it gets light, I’ll have a view of the Mediterranean Sea. Behind me, rises Mount Carmel, on the very top of which is a 30-storey tower.

Yesterday, I went to Haifa University where I attended a research meeting (held in English for my benefit) of an Education Faculty project, called “Promoting Dialogue in Multi-cultural Communities of Teachers and Students”.

I left that meeting and walked across campus to the Law School’s (free) international conference on “Democracy and Terror”. I arrived in time to hear Aharon Barak, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, give the opening address. Barak is coming under heavy criticism, especially by the government here, for being an “activist judge”. (I should mention that a security agent stood behind the speakers on the platform the whole time. As a matter of course, security personnel are positioned at all doors of university buildings – and at all public buildings everywhere.)

Barak’s recent rulings have held the state of Israel and its officials culpable for breaches of human rights. In his opinion, laws affecting security and human rights must be balanced, but in no case, should human rights protection be suspended in times of war or terrorist threats. He pointed out that it is precisely in such times that a democracy is tested and its legitimacy as a democracy stands or fails on its capacity to maintain human rights. Even to the extent, he said, of protecting personal freedoms when it may make it harder to stop terrorism.

I am hearing the different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian situation as it is played out here. Members of the government speak their positions (e.g., on the Sharon “war crimes’ challenge still before the court in Belgium). Here the AG’s official discusses the case in terms of “politicization” of international tribunals, and mentions the increasing anti-Semitism in Europe. It appears that for those in the government camp, “politicization” is a code word for anti-Semitism.

The next speaker, Prof. Fletcher, Columbia University, went into theUSA situation, analyzing the US use of the “enemy combatant” category to suspend human rights of the people it is holding now. He criticized this practice and discussed the way it is being handled in the courts in the USA, drawing on precedents such as the 1942 execution of six “spies” by Roosevelt’s government, without the benefit of legal proceedings.

I’m rather excited about the Education Faculty’s research project I was introduced to yesterday. The research brings together teachers from Jewish, Arab (Palestinian) and Druse (Christian Arab) schools in the area for a structured program of lecture-discussions and interactive work using art and music. They are learning to talk to each other as human to human. What their project is accomplishing (whether or not it “fixes” anything) is a useful way of thinking about peace locally – as a process of working together versus a preconceived place to arrive.

I’m being treated very warmly by these folks, and indeed, feel pretty at home here. You will recognize that I am accessing those academics (apparently there are many) that hold progressive views about Palestine.

Tomorrow, I hope to grab a bus to Tiberius. Then it is back to Tel Aviv, where I will leave my academic gear and persona and pick up my sleeping bag and head into Jerusalem and over into the Occupied Territories, as they are called here.

I’ve been in touch with ISM and hear that because Bethlehem is still under curfew, our training may take place in Ramallah. Although I am not tuned into local news reports, it was reported to me that Jaggi Singh was refused entry and today I have a message from Canada saying he is fighting it (He would, of course.). I hope that I get to meet him in Palestine.


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