NEARLY 200 people took part in a debate at Edinburgh University last week on the prospects for peace in the Middle East. It was organised by the student society People & Planet. John Chalcraft, an Edinburgh politics lecturer, and Chris Doyle, from CAABU (Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding), explained why Palestinians had rejected the 'peace offers'.
The Israeli government's plan was to establish five separate areas, with no viable independence. Palestinians would be concentrated into urban areas while their farming land was given to new Jewish settlers. Israel would keep control of all the roads and water supplies and maintain military control over the territory.
Their opponents, nominated by the Israel Information Office, found no support. Tim Luckhurst, former editor of the Scotsman newspaper, couldn't bring himself to back the usual Zionist claim that Palestine had been offered the entire West Bank and Gaza.
While claiming that Israel is a democratic and pluralist state, he argued that it couldn't allow Palestinian refugees to return because they would 'swamp' it. Roy Graham, a 'consultant' for the Israeli government, argued that it was impossible to be Jewish without supporting Zionism. A Jewish student rejected this.
A Palestinian refugee from 1948 spoke movingly of her family's eviction from their home. Other speakers asked what right the Zionists had to claim 'their' homeland by displacing Palestinians from theirs. Luckhurst and Graham repeatedly justified Israel's actions by referring to suicide bombers. Chris Doyle pointed out that the Israeli army, on its own admission, fired a million bullets in the early days of the intifada to suppress popular demonstrations before any terrorist acts from Palestinians.
The debate was a brilliant educational event for a thoughtful and serious gathering, including many Jewish students.
Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition