Mercy Corp shows film on Mideast

    The director of a Portland-based international aid organization spoke about the Israel-Palestine peace process to a large audience at Portland State University Wednesday night.

    Dr. Landrum Bolling, director-at-large of Mercy Corps, repeatedly stressed his belief that peace between the nations was a viable goal.

    ”This problem can be solved,” Bolling said. “Reasonable people on both sides understand what the solution would look like – we are ignoring the fact of the suffering of both peoples, the desire for peace and the willingness to undergo a drastic change to bring that about.”

    Bolling, who is a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday, has been involved with the Middle East for more than 40 years.

    When communication between the U.S. government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization was blocked in the 1970s, Bolling served as an unofficial channel between Yasir Arafat and various U.S. presidents, most notably Jimmy Carter.

    ”I first went as a curious tourist but then I got hooked on the problem,” said Bolling, who lived for four years in Jerusalem and has had audiences with former Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, Jordan’s King Hussein, the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

    Bolling has also served as president of Indiana’s Earlham College, president of the Lilly Endowment and a foreign correspondent in World War II Europe.

    Tonight’s presentation was the first of 12 monthly PSU forums dealing with the Middle East.

    The forums are the brainchild of the Palestine Lebanon Emergency Action (PLEA). “A spontaneous public action group that came into being in the wake of the Lebanon crisis this summer,” is how PLEA was described by Dr. John Damis, director of PSU’s Middle East Studies Center.

    PLEA’s coordinating committee met with members of the Middle East Center this summer to propose a series of educational public lectures. Next month’s presentation, to be held on Nov. 1, will discuss Hezbollah. Speakers will include PSU’s Aomar Boum and Damis.

    Bolling described the movie as a series of interviews with Israelis and Palestinians from all walks of life: nationalists, peace activists, PLO spokespeople and members of the Knesset.

    ”It gives a picture of the problem and the struggle of people who believe that peace is possible and are trying to work toward it,” he said. A working title for a previous draft of the film was “Voices of Hope.”

    Mercy Corps’ Communications Director Jeremy Barnicle also spoke at Wednesday’s forum about his recent experiences in Gaza and Lebanon.

    ”I found the situation heartbreaking,” Barnicle said. “People had been waiting a long time for peace and, regardless of political affiliation, everyone felt they had taken a large step back.”

     PSU’s Middle East Studies Center was formed in 1959 to promote courses in language and regional studies, and to host visiting guest lecturers. Through its association with the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program, the Center has promoted courses in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and other languages. The Center also works to educate the larger community about Middle Eastern affairs.

    ”The Center sponsors a vibrant outreach program and this event is part of it,” said Damis.