Lectures on Middle East crisis call for more balanced view of the conflict, more media fairness

By Julie Fann
star staff

GREENEVILLE -- Who says Sunday School is boring? For the past two Sundays, an Emmanuel School of Religion professor whose passion is the Middle East has been speaking to members of a Presbyterian church here to increase understanding concerning the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as it relates to international law.
   Dr. Christopher Rollston, assistant professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, reviewed for the audience at Cumberland Presbyterian Church historical facts dating from biblical times to the present day, including Colin Powell's recent meeting with Ariel Sharon and the new "Road Map to Peace."
   Rollston's main point was that, until Israel abides by relevant UN Resolutions, Palestinians will continue the cycle of violence. Contributing to the problem, he said, is U.S. media coverage that fails to present a balanced perspective.
   "If I could change anything about the media in the U.S., it would be to mandate, which I can't, the fact that every time the media uses the term 'settlers' with regard to Israeli 'settlers', that they insert the word, quite properly, 'illegal settlers' because that's exactly what they are according to UN Resolutions 181, 242, 338, 446, and the fourth Geneva Convention. These settlements are simply illegal, and that's that. There's no question about it," Rollston said.
   Referring to history leading up to UN Resolution 181, Rollston explained the second Jewish revolt which occurred from 132 to 135 A.D. nearly 1900 years ago, when most Jewish people were expelled from the region of Jerusalem by the Roman government. This began a major diaspora, and since that time, there has been a move on the part of Jews to return to their geographical homeland.
   "When many began to immigrate back to Palestine, there were vast regions of unsettled territory, but much of it was settled. Tensions arose between Arabs who had lived there for centuries and the Jews, but tensions weren't extreme," Rollston said.
   In 1918, the Ottoman Empire fell and the Middle East divided. France came to occupy and control regions of Lebanon and Syria, and Great Britain came to control Iraq and historic Palestine.
   The period from 1918 to 1948 is referred to as the British mandate period. There was no country, no state of Israel at that time. In 1947, UN Resolution 181 was passed which divided the region of greater Palestine into two countries -- a Jewish state and a Palestinian state.
   "The point is, the UN Resolution created two states, not one. That's one of the greatest misconceptions of the 20th century. Most people assume that the resolution created one state -- the state of Israel. That is a historical error. It's just blatantly, factually, wrong," Rollston said.
   Rollston said it is important to keep in mind that portions of the land taken from the Palestinians and given to the Israelis was land that had belonged to them (the Palestinians) for centuries.
   "As you might imagine, the Palestinians from whom this land, nearly 50 percent, was taken and given to the Israelis were not particularly pleased. I think in some respects we don't normally think about that, but we ought to -- that is to say, before this time period, all of that land was Palestinian territory," Rollston said.
   "I also want to state resoundingly that I understand the need for the creation of some permanent homeland for the persecuted Jewish people."
   In 1967, the Six Day War occurred and during that conflict, Israel was able, with enforcements the United States provided them, to defeat all Arab countries. As a result, Israel significantly expanded its borders.
   "They were able to take much, really all, of the territories allocated to the Palestinians as part of UN Resolution 181, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Rollston said. "At that point, UN Resolution 242 was made. UN Resolution 242 calls for Israel to immediately vacate the territories that they'd taken during the '67 War. That resolution has never been met by the Israelis. Never. Israel at this point stands in violation of more UN Resolutions than Iraq did, and does, and I think that that's terribly unfortunate as well."
   In addition to violating major UN Resolutions, Israel also stands in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which America is a signatory.
   "The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from settling civilians in a territory taken in an act of warfare. It completely forbids it. The problem today is that Israel has created settlements in the occupied territories, and they continue to do so. In fact, Ariel Sharon campaigned on increasing those settlements."
   There is an argument, however, that because the Arabs didn't want Israel in the first place and lost territory in battle that "all is fair in love and war." However, according to Rollston, that is no longer the case in a postmodern world.
   "That's the way war used to work. We live in a modern society and that's not the way war works anymore. The Geneva Convention prohibits such things. You can't acquire territory by war these days and simply keep it. That's why, strictly speaking, we need to get out of Iraq relatively soon, because, at this point, we are in a very gray area in regard to our own occupation," Rollston said.
   The present peace plan formed by the Bush administration says, in essence, what past UN Resolutions have said. However, Israel still has no real intention of observing international law, in spite of Sharon's speeches.
   "Sharon stated that he is willing to begin to dismantle some of the outposts, and that term is important. There were no massive buildings at the outposts that were recently dismantled. It was tents and a few shacks," Rollston said.
   At this point, there are more than 144 large, illegal settlements with more than 200,000 Israeli settlers living in them. "To destroy a few of these outposts with very few people isn't really doing very much ... What needs to happen is that the Israelis need to be willing to dismantle all of these settlements and abide by relevant UN Resolutions."
   Dr. Rollston will be giving a final lecture on the Middle East crisis on Sunday, June 29, at 9:30 a.m. in the lower level of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located at 201 N. Main St., Greeneville. For more information, call (423) 638-4119.