Political activist provides Palestinian voice, hope for solution



When Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian activist and legislator, came to town, she was met with a different reaction than the one former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received. Instead of boos and protests, she was met with applause and standing ovations.

Ashrawi spoke to an almost-full audience at the Singletary Center for the Arts on the Palestine-Israel conflict and a possible solution, which she said will not happen unless the idea of a two-state solution is rescued.

The international community and Israel must give Palestine a voice, Ashrawi said. The Israeli people have denied the Palestinian people their existence and land and have persecuted them, leaving them with the largest refugee population in the world, she said.

“When you deny people their humanity, you deny them of course their rights,” she said.

The conflict between the two Middle East countries is one of land theft, Ashrawi said, and the Israeli people are trying to displace Palestinians and replace them with their own people and history.

Ashrawi said the Israeli government creates systems to keep Palestinians out of certain places, such as Jerusalem. Installments like military checkpoints inhibit them from visiting areas of their land, she said. Roads built using Palestinian land are used to give Israelis access to places, but not Palestinians, she said.

In cities such as Jerusalem, Palestinians are seeing a destruction of their history, she said, when the Israeli government takes historical sites of Palestinian descent and tries to pass them off as history of their own.

Ashrawi said the Palestinians are moving to get recognition from the United Nations and entire international community, but the United States has met them with empty promises and disappointment.

Former President George W. Bush’s administration had a history of backing the Israeli state. Ashrawi said when President Barack Obama was elected, the Palestinian region gave a “sigh of relief,” but said the message of hope Obama delivered has yet to be fulfilled.

More than a year after Obama was elected, the Palestinian people are met with a collective feeling of disappointment, she said.

“It was seen once again as the tail wagging the dog,” she said.

If a solution is to occur, religious and absolutist views should remain out of the problem, Ashrawi said. If the two states use human and legal means as a way to a solution, “then no conflict on Earth is beyond solution,” she said.

In order for the conflict to end, the persecution of Palestinians must be stopped in many ways, Ashrawi said. Ways she cited included not allowing Israel to act in ways going against peace, doing away with military checkpoints and respecting Palestinian-run elections.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” she said. “We are running out of time.”

Tuesday’s dialogue was the second installment of the yearlong aim to educate UK students on the conflict in the Middle East and the hope of peace in the future.

UK Board of Trustees Chair Mira Ball helped introduce Ashrawi and said the yearlong dialogue aims “to help provide students with an increased understanding of a world in which they must live, learn and compete.”

Ashrawi’s roles include head and founder of the Preparatory Committee of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights in Jerusalem, founder of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Jerusalem district, according to an online biography.

UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy, who also introduced Ashrawi, said bringing speakers such as Ashrawi to the university community is a necessary element to diversity.

“The goal is to inform the university and Kentucky communities and facilitate thoughtful dialogue,” he said.