January 30, 2006

Jennifer Lowenstein in conversation

This is a guest post from Esther Sassaman:
What follows is a write-up I wrote for Jews sans frontieres about the Jennifer Loewenstein presentation on Wednesday evening.

Included is an audio link to her lecture, a Windows Media file about an
hour in length.
Jennifer Loewenstein is one of the most prominent and outspoken American Jewish activists and scholars on the issue of Palestine. On Wednesday she travelled to Dundee and gave two presentations about the current situation of Palestine under occupation and after the election victory of Hamas.

Loewenstein worked at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City for 5 months in 2002. In February 2003 she founded the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and visited Rafah in January 2004 for its first delegation to the city. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin but is currently a visiting fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University.

She spent a good part of the years 2000-2002 in Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. Loewenstein is a member of the Palestine/Israel Peace & Justice Alliance (PIPAJA) and a founder of the Rafah-Madison Sister City Project, and a contributing author of The New Intifada (2001).

On Wednesday, Loewenstein talked a lot about the Hamas elections victory, the history of Hamas and its original Israeli backing, and raised an interesting point that the occupation in Palestine has been a force that counteracts the ongoing trend towards social and political modernization there - the occupation, by utterly disrupting freedom of movement, increases the control and influence traditional village elders
have on communities and essentially forces Palestine back in time.

According to Loewenstein, Hamas has capitalized on this trend and is encouraging and intensifying it culturally.

She placed the election results in the context of the brutal occupation of Palestine by Israel by sharing many moving personal anecdotes from her time in Gaza.

She also talked about what solidarity activists should do, a bit - talking about the difference between support of Palestine and endorsement of Hamas. But further questions need to be raised on this issue. When working with Palestinians directly or talking about Palestine in the West, what approach should solidarity activists take as regards issues such as womens' rights and the killing of civilians?

Madison Rafah Sister City Project

Mezan Centre for Human Rights
Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University

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