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Gaylen Byker

The Darkest Hour of the Soul

A conversation with Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi on the plight of her people and the prospects for peace with Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi is commissioner of information and public policy for the Arab League, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the founder and head of the Palestinian Independent Commission on Citizens' Rights. Ashrawi received a doctorate in medieval and comparative literature from the University of Virginia. Her book This Side of Peace offers a candid insider's view of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the obstacles to genuine resolution of the bitter conflict in the Middle East.

Earlier this year, Ashrawi visited Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to give a lecture in the college's annual January Series. Calvin's president, Gaylen Byker, spoke with her then.

Could you start by giving us your description of the current situation?

The current situation is difficult to assess or to diagnose because you never know where you're heading next. And you cannot judge if you're locked in the day-to-day situation, because then you lose sight of a more long-term strategic view. But it looks like we are witnessing the darkest hour of the soul in Palestine. It's not just an escalation of violence. It's not just a total devaluation of human rights and lives. It's not just an occupation that has gone beyond any legal or political limits or any type of restraints.

What we are seeing is a double victimization of the Palestinians—where the victim is blamed, again; where we are all maligned and labeled as terrorists and therefore anything that happens to us is something we somehow deserve. At the same time, we don't see that there is any way out. We don't see third-party intervention, we don't see a willingness to provide observers, monitors, protection. And we don't see a political alternative that would work.

What do you think has made it worse this time around?

First, you have an Israeli government that is made up of a combination of the most extremist elements, representing both the political hard-liners and the religious fundamentalist parties in Israel. ...

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