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A double standard on freedom

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    A double standard on academic freedom in the Middle East Dr. George Bisharat* Two hundred thousand Palestinian children began school in the Gaza Strip this
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2007
      A double standard on academic freedom in the Middle East
      Dr. George Bisharat*

      Two hundred thousand Palestinian children began school
      in the Gaza Strip this month without a full complement
      of textbooks. Why? Because Israel, which maintains a
      stranglehold over this small strip of land along the
      Mediterranean even after withdrawing its settlers from
      there in 2005, considers paper, ink and binding
      materials not to be "fundamental humanitarian needs."

      Israel, attempting to throttle the democratically
      elected Hamas government, generally permits only food,
      medicine and fuel to enter Gaza, and allows virtually
      no Palestinian exports to leave. Lately, it held up
      delivery of materials needed for printing textbooks.
      As a result, Gaza students began the year facing a 30
      percent shortage of texts.

      No full-page advertisements in major American
      newspapers have publicized Israel's violations of
      Palestinian children's right to an education. No
      editors, syndicated columnists or presidents of major
      universities in this country have denounced this
      callous measure. Our politicians have demanded no
      remedial action. Instead, they continue, verbally and
      materially, to support Israel in its near-total
      blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians, kids and all.

      Israel's trampling of Palestinian students' right to
      education - the key to a lifetime of opportunity - has
      rarely evoked official protest from American leaders.
      The Israeli army has closed Palestinian universities
      for years at a time. Israeli military authorities have
      barred Palestinian occupational therapy students from
      traveling from Gaza to the West Bank to obtain vital
      clinical training.

      Hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks can
      turn a routine trip to a local school into a harrowing
      ordeal. Israeli gunfire has even killed Palestinian
      schoolchildren sitting in their classrooms. None of
      these offenses has merited so much as a congressional
      resolution, let alone more serious efforts to curb
      Israeli behavior, such as government-imposed

      In response to this policy double standard - complete
      indulgence of Israel on the one hand, and indifference
      to violations of Palestinian rights on the other hand
      - a movement has emerged for a citizens' boycott of
      Israel. Churches, unions and professional associations
      in the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa
      have urged a variety of nonviolent measures to compel
      Israel's compliance with international law.

      American Presbyterians have studied divesting church
      funds from firms that profit from continuing Israeli
      occupation of Palestinian lands. Unison, the United
      Kingdom's 1.3 million-member union of public servants,
      voted in June to boycott Israeli goods. In May, a
      British union of professors opened a yearlong debate
      over a possible boycott of Israeli academic

      The latter action provoked particularly indignant
      protest by Israel's U.S. supporters as an offense
      against "academic freedom." Yet many Israeli academic
      institutions either benefit from or participate in
      Israeli government actions that violate Palestinian

      Tel Aviv University sits in part over land belonging
      to Sheikh Muwannis, a Palestinian village whose
      residents were expelled by Jewish militias or fled in
      fear in March 1948. These and other Palestinian
      refugees have been denied their right to return to
      their homes or to receive compensation for their
      seized properties.

      Hebrew University in Jerusalem uses more than 800
      acres of land illegally expropriated from Palestinian
      private owners in the West Bank after the 1967 war.
      Bar-Ilan University has established a branch in an
      illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

      The threatened boycott would target Israeli
      institutions, not individuals. Thus, formal research
      and other agreements with Israeli universities would
      be suspended. But invitations to Israeli professors to
      join conferences or to publish in foreign journals
      would continue.

      Nonetheless, it is likely that the boycott would
      impose limitations on freedom for some Israeli
      academics. Is this fair?

      Boycotts are always somewhat blunt tools, and they
      inevitably impose costs on some who are undeserving of
      them. That was true of the boycott of apartheid South
      Africa, which applied to all academics - as well as
      athletes, businesspeople, artists and others. At the
      time, the international community weighed the cost to
      academic freedom against the advancement of justice
      and equal rights for black South Africans, and the
      choice was clear.

      Two hundred thousand Palestinian schoolchildren are
      wondering how the world will respond faced with a
      similar choice today.

      * Professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in
      San Francisco, CA.


      A child on Hamas TV talked of annihilating the Jews ... or did she?

      Arabic under fire
      Brian Whitaker

      Memri, the "research institute" which specialises in translating
      portions of the Arabic media into English, has issued a video clip
      from a children's programme on Hamas TV in which it claims that a
      Palestinian girl talked of becoming a suicide bomber and annihilating
      the Jews.

      Memri - described by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as
      "invaluable" - supplies translations free of charge to journalists,
      politicians and others, particularly in the US.

      Though Memri claims to be "independent" and maintains that it does not
      "advocate causes or take sides", it is run by Yigal Carmon, a former
      colonel in Israeli military intelligence. Carmon's partner in setting
      up Memri was Meyrav Wurmser who in 1996 was one of the authors of the
      now-infamous "Clean Break" document which proposed reshaping Israel's
      "strategic environment" in the Middle East, starting with the
      overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

      In the Hamas video clip issued by Memri, a Mickey Mouse lookalike asks
      a young girl what she will do "for the sake of al-Aqsa". Apparently
      trying to prompt an answer, the mouse makes a rifle-firing gesture and
      says "I'll shoot".

      The child says: "I'm going to draw a picture."

      Memri's translation ignores this remark and instead quotes the child
      (wrongly) as saying: "I'll shoot."

      Pressed further by the mouse - "What are we going to do?" - the girl
      replies in Arabic: "Bidna nqawim." The normal translation of this
      would be "We're going to [or want to] resist" but Memri's translation
      puts a more aggressive spin on it: "We want to fight."

      The mouse continues: "What then?"

      According to Memri, the child replies: "We will annihilate the Jews."

      The sound quality on the clip is not very good, but I have listened to
      it several times (as have a number of native Arabic speakers) and we
      can hear no word that might correspond to "annihilate".

      What the girl seems to say is: "Bitokhoona al-yahood" - "The Jews will
      shoot us" or "The Jews are shooting us."

      This is followed by further prompting - "We are going to defend
      al-Aqsa with our souls and blood, or are we not?"

      Again, the girl's reply is not very clear, but it's either: "I'll
      become a martyr" or "We'll become martyrs."

      In the context of the conversation, and in line with normal
      Arab-Islamic usage, martyrdom could simply mean being killed by the
      Israelis' shooting. However, Memri's translation of the sentence - "I
      will commit martyrdom" turns it into a deliberate act on the girl's
      part, and Colonel Carmon has since claimed that it refers to suicide

      The overall effect of this is to change a conversation about
      resistance and sacrifice into a picture of unprovoked and seemingly
      motiveless aggression on the part of the Palestinians. But why hype
      the content in this way? Hamas's use of children's TV for propaganda
      purposes is clearly despicable, as the BBC, the Guardian and others
      have noted, without any need to exaggerate its content.

      Among those misled by Memri's "translation" was Glenn Beck of CNN, who
      had planned to run it on his radio programme, until his producer told
      him to stop. Beck informed listeners this was because CNN's Arabic
      department had found "massive problems" with it.

      Instead of broadcasting the tape, Beck then invited Carmon on to the
      programme and gave him a platform to denounce CNN's Arabic department,
      and in particular to accuse one of its staff, Octavia Nasr, of being
      ignorant about the language.

      Carmon related a phone conversation he had had with Ms Nasr:

      She said the sentence where it says [in Memri's translation] "We are
      going to ... we will annihilate the Jews", she said: "Well, our
      translators hear something else. They hear 'The Jews are shooting at us'."

      I said to her: "You know, Octavia, the order of the words as you put
      it is upside down. You can't even get the order of the words right.
      Even someone who doesn't know Arabic would listen to the tape and
      would hear the word 'Jews' is at the end, and also it means it is
      something to be done to the Jews, not by the Jews."

      And she insisted, no the word is in the beginning. I said: "Octavia,
      you just don't get it. It is at the end" ... She didn't know one from
      two, I mean.

      Carmon's words succeeded in bamboozling Glenn "Israel shares my
      values" Beck, who told him: "This is amazing to me ... I appreciate
      all of your efforts. I appreciate what you do at Memri, it is
      important work."

      It was indeed amazing, because in defending Memri's translation,
      Carmon took issue not only with CNN's Arabic department but also with
      all the Arabic grammar books. The word order in a typical Arabic
      sentence is not the same as in English: the verb comes first and so a
      sentence in Arabic which literally says "Are shooting at us the Jews"
      means "The Jews are shooting at us".

      I have written about Memri's tweaking of translations before. One
      example was its manipulation of Osama bin Laden's speech on the eve of
      the last American presidential election (details here, at the end of
      the article). Another was an Egyptian newspaper's interview with the
      mufti of Jerusalem. Memri's translators changed the question: "How do
      you deal with the Jews who are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered
      around it?" to "How do you feel about the Jews?" They then heavily
      edited the mufti's words to give an anti-semitic-sounding reply to the
      new question.

      The curious thing about all this is that Memri's translations are
      usually accurate (though it is highly selective in what it chooses to
      translate and often removes things from their original context). When
      errors do occur, it's difficult to attribute them to incompetence or
      accidental lapses. As in the case of the children's TV programme,
      there appears to be a political motive.

      The effect of this is to devalue everything Memri translates - good
      and bad alike. Responsible news organisations can't rely on anything
      it says without going back and checking its translations against the
      original Arabic.



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