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Dr Dov Stekel, Lecturer in Bioinformatics.

In a Letter dated 29th of April, 2005, Dr Dov Stekel writes:

To the executive of the AUT

Dear Sirs

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment at the recent AUT resolution recommending boycott of two Israeli universities. This action is detrimental to the cause of peace; indeed it only supports the cause of those who seek further violence. Furthermore, the timing of the motion, following renewed hope for peace after the election of a new Palestinian government, shows fatal ignorance of the situation in the Middle East on the part of this motion’s supporters. I urge the AUT to overturn this motion and focus its energy on its core mission of ensuring fair and safe working conditions for its members.

In truth, I am delighted that Ms Blackwell and her supporters feel passionately about peace in the Middle East. I too, am passionate about peace in the Middle East, not in the least because of the large number of my friends and family members who live there. Among them is my three-month-old niece, Tzahala, who lives in a quiet suburb of south Jerusalem, midway between the infamous "Wall" and the Emek Refaim neighbourhood, the site of a number of attacks on innocent civilians in cafes and restaurants. In Birmingham and in Eastbourne, these are simply matters of politics; in Jerusalem, these are matters of life and death.

The conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East has been long, complex and bloody, waged through most of the 20th Century, and sadly unabated in the 21st. It has led to the tragic and unnecessary loss of very many lives, not only among Israelis and Palestinians, but even among British servicemen during the mandatory period. It is a conflict in which both sides feel that they are the aggrieved party, with legitimate and historical claims. Each side feels that it is the victim of violence from the other; each side views the other with fear and mistrust. This is a conflict that will be very hard to resolve; peace will only come through great courage and tough compromises.

There have, of course, been beacons of light during this conflict. Most significant was the signing of a peace deal between between Egypt and Israel in 1979, at the hands of Anwar el-Sadat and Menachem Begin. A peace that has been tense, and fragile; a peace that cost Sadat his life; but a peace that has lasted. A few weeks ago, in my local supermarket, I saw a pummet of Egyptian strawberries, marked variety “Yael”. My heart leapt: these truly are the fruits of peace, an Israeli variety of strawberry grown in Egypt, exported to the world, bringing much needed economic development to this great but impoverished nation.

In 1993, it was hoped that the signing of the Oslo accords would bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, this has not happened. But in February this year we saw the election of a new Palestinian government. This heralds a time of renewed hope for peace. Of all times, this is a time for dialogue and communication, not a time for shutting ourselves off with boycotts. It is a time to open up our hearts and our minds, to listen to our "enemies", to see them as we see our friends: as people, with the same hopes and fears, dreams and passions, seeking happiness and an end to suffering. Only through this can we begin to establish the bonds of trust and friendship, and foster the peaces between individuals are the small pieces of the big Peace between states.

Although it is very easy to see this conflict as a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, this is a simplistic view. The real sides in this conflict are the builders of bridges and the builders of walls. Those who seek dialogue and understanding, an end to conflict and the establishment of peace, and those who seek monologues and boycotts, fear, mistrust and ultimately violence.

Among the builders of bridges are Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, who signed the historic peace deal between Egypt and Israel. There is my namesake, Dov Rosman, a fabric trader, who, despite the outbreak of violence, and the warnings of his friends, continued to maintain a good relationship with his Palestinian acquaintances, believing that by continuing his trade, he was contributing to the coexistence necessary for peace. On August 26th 2001, on his way to the Palestinian village of Zaita, Dov was ambushed, shot and killed. They include Daniel Barenboim, and the musicians of his West Eastern Divan Workshop - an orchestra that has brought together Arab and Israeli musicians, to perform together around the World. These blessed peacemakers, who promote dialogue and understanding between people, foster the bonds of understanding, friendship and trust that are the true seeds of peace.

And on the other side are the builders of walls. These include the builders of physical walls; but as we have seen in Berlin, physical walls can be demolished in days. More dangerous are the walls in the heart, the walls of anger, fear and hate, which can take years, or even generations to demolish. The builders of walls include the killers of Anwar Sadat, Yitzchak Rabin and Dov Rosman; they include the gunmen who enter synagogues and mosques and shoot people at prayer; they include the people who strap bombs onto teenagers – never their own children – and send them into buses, cafes and nightclubs to kill other people’s children.

We academics are a unique position. We need dialogue and collaboration to conduct our research. We receive grants from our governments and funding bodies specifically to foster collaborations. We are empowered to bring people together, including, indeed especially, people from countries involved in conflict. Israeli Universities are part of this process. They are places in which Israeli and Arab academics and students mix and collaborate, fostering bonds, building trust, and ultimately peace.

By moving this motion, Ms Blackwell and her supporters have, I hope temporarily, aligned themselves with the builders of walls. Now, each member of the AUT faces a clear decision: to join the side of the builders of bridges, or to join the side of the builders of walls. To add your name to those who seek dialogue and peace, through building trust and understanding, or to include yourself among who seek dispute and violence, fostering fear and mistrust through boycott and a break-down of communication. To put it bluntly, you can choose between life and death. Choose life, and help us all to live.


Yours faithfully,

Dr Dov Stekel
Lecturer in Bioinformatics.

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