As John Kerry and George Bush debated last week, both knew their political battle would end in November. But Diana Buttu, who spoke at GW Thursday night, is still waiting to see an end to the conflict to which she has devoted her career.
Buttu, legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, spoke to a packed crowd in the Marvin Center Amphitheater about issues surrounding Israeli and Palestinian relations. The group Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the event.
Buttu was born and raised in Canada as the daughter of Palestinian refugees – a status that was frequently emphasized by her father. It was not until 1987, when she visited her family in the West Bank, that the scope of the situation finally made the impact her father had desired.
Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas predominantly populated by Palestinians who hope to form a sovereign state.
On Thursday, Buttu said she saw disparate conditions between “very orderly” Israeli homes versus “the overpopulated ghetto” of Palestinians. When Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, she was hopeful and pursued a law career.
But negotiations have stalled between Israeli politicians and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who is increasingly viewed by the United States and Israeli officials as a terrorist and impediment to peace. In 2000, Palestinians launched an intifada, or uprising, against Israelis, triggering a spate of violence that has killed thousands of people on both sides.
Buttu said restrictions imposed on Palestinians in the areas of movement, religion and economics work to confine refugees into the smallest area possible while Israeli citizens reap benefits.
“Whether Christian or Muslim, people need Israeli permission to pray,” Buttu said.
She pointed to the 700 existing checkpoints that Palestinians must pass through to go from city to city that delay or prevent travel.
Buttu also accused Israelis of living in illegally established settlements. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has prompted hundreds of thousands of Israelis to build settlements there.
“From 1993 to 2000, the number of settlers living illegally in settlements doubled from 200,000 to 400,000,” Buttu said.
She said people in these areas were enticed by “reductions in income taxes, better schools, roads, facilities and housing prices” that restricted the land owned by Palestinians. These settlements allow Israel to “get rid of indigenous population and replace with immigrant Jews,” she said.
Buttu encouraged students to become politically active and fight for the Palestinians’ cause.
“A different future definitely needs your help,” she said. “Get involved in organizations to express dissent with this entire process.”
She specifically advocated divestment – the process of refusing to support businesses with proceeds coming from Israel.
“You can make sure your money is no longer going to businesses that are profiting from Israel’s 37 year military occupation,” Buttu said.
While many in the diverse crowd could be seen nodding in approval throughout the speech, freshman Stephen Goldstein was more critical.
“(It was) a little bit intellectually dishonest to not even talk about the fact that Israeli children are killed along with Palestinian children,” he said. “It would have been more effective if it presented a more balanced situation.”