Thursday, June 08, 2006

Palestinians-Israelis at Haifa University study impact of Wall -- highlight tensions in Israel between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens

At Haifa University: Study day on separation walls between Arabs and Jews in Israel
'Separation Walls between Arabs and Jews in Israel' was the conference held on Sunday, June 4 at Haifa University, organised by the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) and the Jewish-Arab Centre for Middle Eastern studies at Haifa University.

The study day dealt with the political, legal and psychological aspects of the separation walls between Arab and Jewish communities in three mixed cities and neighbourhoods in Israel and their impacts on all aspects of an Arab citizen's life.
The study day was opened with words from Professor Arye Rattner, Dean of Social Sciences at Haifa University and from the Chairman of the HRA, Adv. Salim Wakeem.
Adv. Wakeem spoke about the HRA's activities and emphasised the importance of cooperation between NGOs and academia. Dan Bavly, Chairman of the Board at the Jewish-Arab Centre, Dr. Rassem Khamaisi, a lecturer from the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Haifa University, Hermann Bünz, Director of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Israel, all offered welcoming remarks. Finally, Dr. Faisal Azaiza spoke, emphasising the importance of open public discussion on such issues, and its particular relevance to academia.

The first session of the conference was 'Walls and their Legal and Psychological Ramifications', and also involved the participants analysing the walls in geographical and political contexts. Discussion brought forth how the phenomenon of wall construction between Arab and Jewish towns is on the rise, and how through local Jewish planning institutions, walls are constructed without Arab representation in the decision-making process.

The HRA's Director, Mohammad Zeidan, reviewed the separation walls in three areas in Israel – Lid, Ramleh, and between Jisr al-Zarqa and Qesariya, which were addressed in the Behind the Walls report published in December 2005, while also elaborating on the violations of human rights and the rights of the citizen. He said, "The Jewish majority sees the minority as a threat and as an unwelcome people. The danger here is that in some cases the building of the walls was a government initiative – in making the decision and funding the construction. This, if not stopped, will be governmental policy in dealing with the Palestinian minority in the country". Zeidan also added that the walls' construction would increase the feeling of discrimination based on ethnicity and will impose separation on the ground. He stressed that building walls does not solve problems but only accentuate them.

Dr Yusuf Jabareen, from the Faculty of Law at the universities of Haifa and Tel Aviv, analysed the recent court decision on separation wall construction within Israel. He said, "The walls separate between Jews and Arabs and are therefore racial walls. They are forced by the strong side on the weak one. This leads to the violation of the rights of the minority. And there is a clear message in this – 'We don't want you; we here, you there'."

Mouna Karkabi, from the Department of Psychology at Haifa University, said there was a lot of psychological damage on Arab citizens as a result of the wall's construction, effecting crucial decisions in an Arab citizen's life – his educational and career choices, as well his place of residence.

The second session, chaired by Dr Deborah Shmueli from the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Haifa University, was 'Separation Walls from Theory to Reality: Environmental Aspects'. Professor Nurit Kliot, also from the same department, Dr Tobi Fenster, from the Department of Geography at Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Rassem Khamaisi all participated in this session. Dr. Khamaisi reviewed the impacts of the separation walls in the public sphere from the technical and planning aspects.

The final session was the 'Round Table: Separation or Cooperation in the Shadow of the Walls' headed by Hussein Abu Hussein, Board Member of the HRA. Sheikh Murad 'Ammash, head of the Jisr al-Zarqa municipality, testified to the negative effects on his community and that of neighbouring Qesariya as a result of the earth embankment, and how it would affect the neighbourhood's future economical development and construction. MK 'Abbas Zakour offered his personal perspective on the current status of relations between Arabs and Jews in the country, with special focus on his home town, the mixed city of 'Akka. He reiterated that the idea of building separation walls would only increase the discrimination and tension between Arabs and Jews. Dr. Edy Kaufman, from the Centre for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, spoke about similar situations of separation in the world and called to oppose or struggle against the idea of separation on national background.

The comments made by Professor Arnon Sofer, from the Geography Department at Haifa University, whose take on the Arab minority in Israel is well known, made for a lively discussion throughout the conference. The participation of the speakers and the public made for a particularly engaging study day that helped introduce the issue of separation walls to academia and helped foster new ideas on the same.

For further information, please contact us directly:
Mohammad Zeidan, Director
Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA)

PO Box 215, Nazareth 16101, Israel
Telephone: +972 (0)4 6561923
Fax: +972 (0)4 6564934