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Establish peaceful, respectful discourse on campus

On behalf of BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, I would like to address points raised in Tuesday's letter in The Daily Targum from Rutgers Hillel.

Rutgers Hillel did not invite BAKA to participate in the "OneVoice Movement" until the letter was published. The only time individuals representing Hillel and BAKA have directly interacted was on Sept. 14, 2010, when I met with several student leaders from Rutgers Hillel to propose an event in which issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be discussed openly and publicly. These individuals can confirm this. I expressed my concern that the traditional discourse with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reduces the issue to "pro-this" or "pro-that" language, greatly oversimplifying many aspects of the conflict. On behalf of BAKA, I proposed our organizations host a debate by academics invited by each organization and moderated by a University dean.

The Hillel leaders I met with stressed the necessity of "training" to address difficult questions of the conflict. They rejected BAKA's proposal on the grounds that the conflict was too sensitive to address in public. Instead, they proposed joint community service projects in order to build trust. I explained that BAKA was a social justice and human rights organization, not a community service group and our conversation ended on Sept. 14, 2010. Therefore, the claim that Hillel has repeatedly invited BAKA to sponsor this event is untrue.

BAKA respectfully declines Hillel's invitation to participate in the "OneVoice Movement." Understanding that Rutgers Hillel and BAKA are advocacy organizations, BAKA believes it has a responsibility to provide programming which illuminates issues central to peace in the Middle East. While we recognize the work OneVoice does in looking for common ground among Palestinians and Israelis, their stated goal is to mobilize Israeli and Palestinian society to pressure their elected governments. Presently, the Palestinians have no legitimately elected representatives. We do not feel OneVoice stands by the same principles as BAKA. We stand for principles of justice set forth by the United Nations Charter, International Court of Justice and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For example, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the United Nations issued General Assembly Resolution 194 affirming the right of refugees from the war to return to their homes, presently within the state of Israel. This has never been implemented.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the UN Security Council issued binding Resolution 242, which condemns conquering land by force and calls for a "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territory occupied in the recent conflict." Resolution 242 has not been implemented 44 years later.

Furthermore, the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion in 2004 affirmed the "illegal situation" created by Israel's Separation Wall built on Occupied Palestinian Territory, not on Israeli territory, and urged the UN Security Council and General Assembly to begin addressing the issue of Israel's non-compliance with international law.

Finally, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the rights of all people, regardless of identity — race, sex, religion — or political status — national, international, country or territory, to freedom, equality and dignity. This principle is not pursued in Israel-Palestine.

BAKA believes OneVoice attempts to normalize the relationship between the occupier and the occupied by minimizing the losses of the Palestinians and the responsibilities of the Israeli government. It stresses the notion of compromise to achieve peace — a compromise which entails the forfeiture of the legitimate rights of the refugees' return and neglects the responsibilities of Israel to fully withdraw their military occupation and end illegal settlement construction in occupied territory. To endorse such an event would vindicate the illegal actions of the Israeli government and contradict BAKA's foundation of standing for justice in the Middle East.

To be clear, BAKA has previously declined invitations to endorse the event from the "OneVoice Movement" and a University dean. However, Tuesday's letter was the first time representatives of Rutgers Hillel sought a response from BAKA. While we decline the invitation to participate in the event, we certainly desire to establish a peaceful and civil discourse on campus. We would like to extend an invitation, proposed by Vice President of Student Affairs Gregory S. Blimling, to the student leaders of Rutgers Hillel to meet with representatives from the BAKA executive board to discuss our grievances.

Michael Dunican is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in Middle Eastern Studies.

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