Why Gaza Matters: The War and its Consequences, was the theme of a teach-in at Brown University Sept. 10 at the Starr Auditorium. The program was sponsored by the Brown University Middle East Studies department and the Watson Institute. The room was filled to capacity with an audience of more than 110 that included several members of the Rhode Island Jewish community. The event was open to the public, and the program was also webcast.

The purpose of the program was to educate, and inform the community about the people of Gaza and the ramifications of the recent war. The program featured five speakers: Professor Beshara Doumani, a Watson faculty fellow and director of Middle East Studies; Omer Bartov, professor of European History as well as German Studies; Sa’ed Atshan, a postdoctoral fellow in International Studies, Melani Cammett, a member of the Watson Institute and professor of Political Science; and Nina Tannenwald of the Watson Institute, director of the International Relations program and a senior lecturer in Political Science. Doumani acted as the moderator.

The panel addressed several issues of concern with regard to the people of Gaza, including: a historical context going back to pre-1948, the media’s portrayal of the recent fighting, the perception and beliefs of Americans concerning the war and human rights in regard to international law.

Among the highlights of the program:

Sa’ed Atshan, who has family and friends living in the region, spoke out against the portrayal of the U.S. and international press coverage of the war. He cited several examples of pro-Israel articles and said that the media did little to highlight the significant numbers of Palestinians killed and injured due to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. He also said that, for years, the people of Gaza have lived in what he termed an “open-air prison,” which he blamed on Israel.

Omer Bartov, an Israeli, said that, for decades, the world has constantly missed opportunities to bring peace to the region and cited examples.

Melani Cammett used recent polls, such as Gallup and Pew, to highlight the political tension of the conflict.

Nina Tannenwald provided provocative thoughts on how the world will look at the both Hamas and Israel with regards to possible violations to international law.

While there was certainly tension in the audience, it came to the surface during the question-and-answer period of the program. Several in the audience questioned why the panel was “stacked” with pro-Palestinian supporters. Others made statements that were in support of Israel or commented on the need to negotiate for peace. Many members of the audience felt that their questions were either inadequately answered or not answered at all. One thing everyone agreed on was that Hamas was, and still is, a terrorist organization.

MARTY COOPER is the Community Relations director for the Jewish Alliance.