Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed March 25, 1997
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Getting beyond the military conflicts

Jewish and Arab scholars will explore Israeli and Palestinian identities

"Israeli and Palestinian Identities: In History, Literature, and the Arts," a conference sponsored by the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, will be presented April 13-15 at Brown University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Who are the Israelis? Who are the Palestinians? And why have they been locked in conflict over the same land for the past century? Those questions are at the heart of an upcoming conference, "Israeli and Palestinian Identities: In History, Literature, and the Arts," presented by Brown University's Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies April 13-15. The conference will bring together international scholars and Palestinian and Israeli diplomats, writers, and musicians in a unique and timely forum dedicated to cross-cultural understanding. All sessions are free and open to the public.

This conference is the visionary work of two Brown professors, Kamal Abdel-Malek of the Department of Comparative Literature and David C. Jacobson of the Program in Judaic Studies. Last year they created a new course, "Arabs and Jews: Their Encounters in Contemporary Israeli and Arabic Literature." According to Abdel-Malek, "This conference goes beyond the scope of our course. It's our hope that through the intellectual interchange and artistic expressions of the conference, the participants will gain a greater understanding of the common resonances of the fears and aspirations, and defeats and triumphs of Palestinians and Israelis."

"We also hope that all participants will recognize that the destinies of these national groups are intertwined and that genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved by their recognition of their common humanity," said Jacobson.

Highlighting the conference will be a rare joint appearance by senior Israeli and Palestinian diplomats at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 13, in Alumnae Hall. Shimon Shamir, Israel's first ambassador to Jordan, will discuss "Israelis Coming to Terms with the Discovery of Palestinian Identity," followed by Afif Safieh, the Palestinian general delegate to the United Kingdom, who will explore "Identity and Independence in the Age of Global Tribes."

"I know both Shamir and Safieh, but I never imagined that one day they would have the opportunity to appear together in the same forum," said Abdel-Malek. He added that Safieh played an integral part in initiating America's diplomatic dialogue with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). "We expect their talks to shed important light on the impact of diplomatic interactions between Israel and the Arab world on the formation of identity in the Middle East," noted Jacobson.

Historians and sociologists who work in the areas of Israeli and Palestinian studies will apply their disciplines to the issues of identity of these two national groups. The conference will also feature concerts, films, and an exhibit of recent photographs of Arabs and Jews interacting in Israel/Palestine. The exhibition, Neighbors: Relations Between Arabs and Jews in Israel, will be on view in the List Art Center foyer from March 29 through April 15. It features works by American photographer David H. Wells, and is presented by the David Winton Bell Gallery.

According to Jacobson, "This conference should be of central interest to American foreign policy makers because they cannot be effective as a peace brokers unless they understand the cultures and complexities of Israeli and Palestinian identities."

Conference schedule

Sunday, April 13

1 p.m. Alumnae Hall: Greetings Identity and Diplomacy

3 p.m. Room 101, Salomon Center for Teaching: Concert
Charleston String Quartet, "Middle East Journey"

5 p.m. Bell Gallery, List Art Building, 64 College St.
Reception and Viewing of Photographic Exhibit

"Neighbors: Relations Between Arabs and Jews in Israel" by David H. Wells

9:15 p.m. Avon Cinema, Thayer Street: Film
"Haifa" (1996), directed by Rashid Masharawi

Monday, April 14

9 a.m. Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall: Identity and History 11 a.m. Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall: Identity in Literature and Film 1:30 p.m. Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall: Identity and Society

3:30 p.m. Room 210, Pembroke Hall: Film
"The Flying Camel" (1994), directed by Rami Na'aman

8 p.m. Sayles Hall: Concert
"Fusions: A Concert of Jewish and Arab Music"
Oud player Taiseer Elias, cellist Uri Vardi, and pianist Menachem Wiesenberg

Tuesday, April 15

9 a.m. Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall: Identity in Literature

11 a.m. Crystal Room, Alumnae Hall: Roundtable Discussion with Conference Participants
Moderators: Kamal Abdel-Malek and David Jacobson, Brown University