By Brieanah Gouveia
On the evening of April 8, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat, visited Roanoke College and gave a speech on the urgent need for peace between Israel and Palestine. We can thank RC Senior Mathilda Nasser for Areikat’s visit, who in Fall 2013 interned at his office in Washington, DC and first considered having him speak at Roanoke. The event had such high attendance that the chairs quickly filled and people eagerly stood in the back of the room to hear this presenter’s thoughts.
Areikat began his oration by calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine that has been in effect since 1967, and moreover for the proper relocating of nearly one million refugees who were forced out of their homeland with the creation of Israel in 1948. He exclaimed that all of the fighting and casualties have exacted heavy tolls that now urge for a time of peace. The Palestinian Ambassador believes the peace compromise between these nations should be a win-win for both. He is waiting for an Israeli leader who will recognize the right of an independent Palestine. He believes it is in the interest of Israel to work out a peace agreement because Palestinian people can provide the most aid and service to Israelis for the simple fact that they share much of the same land. Furthermore, Areikat argued that peace is not only in the interest of Palestine and Israel, but the United States as well.
Areikat’s speech entered a more critical phase when he began commenting on the relations between Israel and the United States. He questioned the United States’ support of an independent Palestine when the United States continues to support the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. He highlighted the many failed attempts at peace between the nations, such as the peace initiative in 2002 that called for the end of Israeli occupation in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Although Areikat did reveal that the condition in Lebanon is much better than it was, clearly Syria and Palestine are still severely threatened by Israeli influence. He also expressed his concern for the obstacle presented by the recently reelected right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who openly denied support of an independent Palestine. Areikat believes it was this refusal of Palestinian sovereignty that allowed for Bibi to gain roughly an additional 1/3 of votes from far right-wing parties which helped him surpass his opponent in the election. In addition to the counterforce presented by the Israeli Prime Minister, Areikat also argued that the reason why Israel continues to get away with violence and evade a peace agreement is because it is not being held accountable for its violation of Palestinian human rights and international law by the United Nations. He urged that peace needs to be made in order to end the construction of illegal settlements in Palestine, the unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land, and the unjust treatment of Palestinian refugees and civilians by Israel.
Areikat offered three solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. First, he acknowledged the possibility of living an apartheid existence under continued suffering and violence. Next, he mentioned the merging of Israel and Palestine into a binational state. Lastly, and the most ideal solution in his mind, is the two-state solution based on the geographical borders set up in 1967. In response to how to achieve this end, Areikat stated, “The only way to weaken those who oppose peace is to empower those who want peace.” He openly admitted that the end of violent tactics by Palestine for the most part was not to appease the Western World, but it was because of the revelation that only nonviolent action and diplomacy can bring peace.
A question and answer component followed the Palestinian Ambassador’s speech, during which Areikat responded to a handful of questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. The final question was very relevant to many of the audience members positing “What can college students do to help solve this conflict?” Areikat responded with stay in school, graduate, take advantage of the diversity and activeness of college campuses today. Listen to the opinions of your peers, respect the perspectives of others, and do not generalize false stereotypes.