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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Criticisms kick off conference on Middle East

Two blocks away from Bethlehem Bible College, where the Rev. Bishara Awad teaches, Israelis and Palestinians fight daily in one of the more contentious spots of recent Middle East violence.

Windows shattered by two stray bullets are the only the signs of physical damage to the college. But for Christians and for everyone else in the area, Awad said, psychological damage has taken its toll.

Awad and three others spoke in Evanston on Thursday night at an emergency briefing on the Middle East crisis. The speeches were the first events of this weekend’s Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding conference. About 75 people attended the discussion, held at First Presbyterian Church, 1427 Chicago Ave.

Guests presented alternative views on the most recent escalation of violence. On Thursday, a car bomb exploded in Jerusalem, killing two Israelis. Two Palestinians died in other clashes during the day.

Awad said the violence has disrupted life for everyone in his town. To leave Bethlehem to attend the conference, he had to obtain permission from Israeli authorities, he said.

“I’m not sure I’m over the shock of the last month or so,” Awad said. “Bethlehem is under siege.”

In contrast with past clashes between the factions, which are battling over who land disputes in Israel, agitators no longer are just throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, Awad said.

“Now, weapons have started to come out,” he said. “It used to be an eye for an eye. In this case it is an eye for 10 eyes or 100 eyes.”

Awad condemned both sides of the conflict.

“When will the Israelis come to their senses that these are the native people?” he asked. “(Israel) has taken their freedom away.”

Of the Palestinians, Awad said it is foolish for them to “fight against one of the greatest powers in the Middle East.”

The next speaker, Loren Lybargar, a University of Chicago doctoral student who spent a year in Bethlehem researching the conflict, condemned Israel for its actions during the past eight years of the peace process.

“Some of you may be wondering, ‘What the hell happened?'” Lybargar said of the breakdown of peace negotiations.

He blamed Israel for the violence, contending that most of the Palestinians killed in recent weeks were shot by Israeli military snipers.

Lybargar said Israel has neglected the peace process from the start. He cited the building of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem despite Israel’s agreement not to do so in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

“What happened is that Oslo was never about peace,” he said. “It was about reconfiguring the Israeli matrix of power.”

When Jan Moskovich, director of Jews for Jesus in Skokie, spoke next, he responded directly to Lybargar, who was sitting in the audience.

“My people are not an evil people,” Moskovich said.

Someone in the audience then said loudly: “Yes you are.”

Moskovich disagreed with Lybargar’s claim that Israeli snipers have killed most of the Palestinians. He also denied that Israel is to blame for the disintegration of peace.

Moskovich said he is not concerned with finding a political solution. Instead, his group supports Israel while at the same time hoping for peace on all sides, he said.

“The real issue for us, as Christians, is that we need to be praying for peace to transform hearts,” Moskovich said.

The final speaker, Jennifer Bing-Canar, lamented what she saw as pro-Israel coverage by the American press.

“In an America that says over and over, ‘We stand with Israel,’ it’s a hard job to try to listen,” she said.

Bing-Canar also urged audience members to take a more active role in the matter, including calling their congressional representatives or donating to charities that help victims of the conflict.

“Lest we walk away feeling that this is their problem,” she said, “remember that the U.S. plays an important role.”

Chicago resident Ann Sleeva said the speakers were biased, but that “they spoke from the heart.”

The only thing the speakers agreed on was a common hope for peace in Israel.

But, Awad warned, both sides must learn from their mistakes and avoid immediate solutions that will later fall apart.

“Our real aspiration is for a peace, but not for a temporary peace,” Awad said.

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Criticisms kick off conference on Middle East