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Mideast peace North of 60

Kevin Allerston
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 21, 2011

About 60 people packed into the Yellowknife Public Library meeting room early last week to participate in a talk about peace in the Middle East with two internationally-renowned activists.

Anna Zalik, a Jewish professor who teaches at York University in Toronto, and Evelyn Hamdon, an Arabic author who studies and teaches at the University at Alberta, visited Yellowknife to give a presentation on Dec. 13, titled Israel and Palestine: Advocacy and Dissent. Both intellectuals expressed hope for a day when the two nations can exist in peace with each other.

Most of last week's presentation, and the discussions that followed, centred around the need to have an open, honest debate about the issues.

"I think through activism around this, what I started to realize is that the only way to bring about real social justice and change is through actively critiquing the policies of the Israeli state," said Zalik, who is engaged in several initiatives to promote freedom of expression and academic debates on Israel and Palestine at Canadian university campuses.

Both speakers agreed that an important part of dealing with the issues is to be clear about the difference between being critical of a government and its policies, and being against the people themselves.

"I want to work with people who understand the complexities and who understand that it is not binary ... there are lots of Palestinians who fall on the other side, and there are lots of Israelis who fall on mine," said Hamdon, who last year published the book Islamophobia: A Question of Muslim Identity.

Zalik said some of the movements in North America and the Middle East recently give her hope that there will be a change in the public dialogue and the way people are treated.

"I've been feeling kind of optimistic with the kind of movements that have emerged in the last year-and-a-half," said Zalik. "That region has the Arab spring, and then there is the Occupy movement, so I think there's been a shift in thinking and I think that is good."

"It would be really inappropriate of me to not continue to be optimistic, to do the work. I mean, we don't know how long or when change will come, but I think inevitably it will come," Hamdon said.

"We were thrilled with the number of people who came. Really it's wonderful. Truly people are thinking deeply and carefully about these issues and making important connections, I think, to the situation also in Canada, which for us is really important."

The event was organized by Alternatives North with support from the Yellowknife United Church Outreach Committee, Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington, and the NWT Regional Women's Committee of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

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