Many commonly held ideas about Palestine and Israel are wrong, said a visiting scholar from the University of Arizona to a packed crowd Monday in the Smith Memorial Student Union Vanport Room. Dr. Charles D. Smith was visiting Portland State University as part of an ongoing lecture series designed to educate Portlanders about Middle Eastern issues, titled “Palestine: Current Issues and Future Prospects.
Many commonly held ideas about Palestine and Israel are wrong, said a visiting scholar from the University of Arizona to a packed crowd Monday in the Smith Memorial Student Union Vanport Room.
Dr. Charles D. Smith was visiting Portland State University as part of an ongoing lecture series designed to educate Portlanders about Middle Eastern issues, titled “Palestine: Current Issues and Future Prospects.”
Calling press coverage of many Palestinian-Israeli issues abysmal, Smith offered corrections to what he said were common misconceptions. Most notably, Smith disagreed with the idea that the Palestinian and Israeli governments are in control of their armed forces and their populaces.
One example of this, he said, would be the intifada of 2000, the second of the two most recent conflicts, when Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak tried unsuccessfully to restrain the Israeli military. Additionally, many proponents of the intifada came from Palestinian factions opposed to Yasir Arafat.
“What I see as the greatest problem today with respect to both Palestinians and Israel is what we call the fragmentation of the political process,” Smith said. “There’s no ability for anyone to identify or to shape what is happening on the ground. I see this as very threatening.”
Citing governments in disarray and small but vocal extremist movements on both sides, Smith said the situation was at a point of crisis.
“Is this situation hopeless? It depends on your point of view,” Smith said. “[But] if we continue down this path, there’s a very good chance that Israel won’t exist by mid-century.”
Smith was brought to PSU as part of a public lecture series sponsored by the community organization Palestine Lebanon Emergency Action (PLEA) and the Portland State Middle Eastern Studies Center. Smith’s lecture was the third in a planned series of 12. Previous speakers have included the Mercy Corps’ Landrum Bolling and PSU professors John Damis and Aomar Boum.
Smith is a well-known Middle East scholar who has taught at George Mason University and San Diego State. Presently, he is the head of the University of Arizona’s Near Eastern Studies Department. His work may be familiar to some PSU students-his textbook, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, has been used for the past decade in Professor John Damis’ course on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Hala Gores, a Portland lawyer, PSU alum, and founder of the co-sponsoring organization PLEA, said that the lecture series is only a segment of the group’s larger efforts. PLEA has also worked with grassroots organizations in Portland to hold rallies and fundraising events around town, she said.
“We went from organizing those kind of activities to wanting to do more outreach to the community at large because we found ourselves preaching to the choir. We really wanted to reach out to the Portland metro area as well as to the Jewish community,” Gores said, “to educate on topics which are not easily found in the mainstream media.”
The Middle East Studies Center, which is also sponsoring the lectures, does so as part of its larger community outreach program, said Jean Campbell, the center’s assistant director. Other programs at the Middle East Studies Center have included educational speakers for Portland’s K-12 schools and a December event with whirling dervishes.
“I’m really a strong believer in making change from the lowest levels of society,” Gores said. “I think that if we had common folks banding together and demanding that our voices be heard we may be able to effect change-a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.”
The next lecture in the series will be on Tuesday, Feb. 6, when PSU’s John Mandaville gives the lecture “Palestine-History and Culture.”