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Pal-Think Hosts Roundtable Discussion with Swiss Diplomat

Today, June 15, 2009 Pal-Think for strategic studies had the opportunity to host Mr. Roland Steininger, the Swiss representative to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and his deputy Mrs. Conny Camenzind. The president of PalThink, Omar Shaban, invited a handful of civil society members to discuss the current situation in Gaza, with Mr. Steininger. Among the attendees were, Dr. Ahmed Abu Tawahina, the General Manager of the Gaza Community Health Program, Mr. Mustafa Masood, a Palestinian businessman, Professor Fakhr Abu Awwad, a University Professor, Mr. Essam Younis, Director of Al Mezan center for Human Rights, Ms. Amal Tarazai, of the Development Founders Company and Ms. Hiba Attala, community activist and co-founder of Solidarity Bridge. The diverse collection of viewpoints and expertise made for a rich discussion and debate regarding the current state of Gaza, the role of the international community, the role of Palestinians in Gaza, prospects for peace, global public opinion of Israel and the new Obama administration. The discussion began with various introductions, including Mr. Steininger’s summary of events since he’s been in Gaza. Mr. Steininger—like most politicians, activists, foreigners who have been visiting Gaza recently—has gone through the various motions, a meeting with John Ging, of UNRWA, a tour of the Gaza strip, a visit to Rafah, etc. The key points of the various presentations were: • Mr. Younis’s presentation of the human rights abuses of “Operation Cast Lead.” According to Mr. Essam, between January 2000- January 2009, 2000 rockets were fired from Gaza and 600 Israeli’s were killed, yet in the first five minutes of “Operation Cast Lead” over 250 Palestinians were killed—in 5 minutes. • Mr. Masood explained his personal business and his perspective of different types of European aid to Gaza. He posed the question of the purpose behind the siege: as the siege has frustrated the Palestinians into extremism, and is only broken when there is a benefit to Israel. For example, the only time construction materials have been allowed to pass through into Gaza was for a European sponsored wastewater management project which would greatly benefit Israel. • Mr. Abu Tawahina’s presentation of the psycho-social state of the Gaza strip. According to Mr. Abu Tawahina, 98.5 % of people surveyed regarding their experience in the recent war did not feel safe and secure—at all—during the war, and a significant proportion of Gazans are trying to get out. He presented previous research regarding children of the first intifada and hypotheses regarding their high capacity for violence due to their experience of the intifada—and the same being true for children who experienced “Operation Cast Lead” both in Palestine and in Israel. • Mr. Abu Awwad, spoke of his personal and professional experience of the challenges faced by the Palestinian education system at all levels because of the siege and made a request for a European university in Palestine, comparable to those in Cairo and Beirut. • Ms. Tarazi spoke with optimism regarding her organizations means of utilizing resources and aiding International organizations’ needs with local Palestinian hands. • Ms. Attala mentioned her work with “Solidarity Bridge” and their recent successful partnership with “Students in Solidarity with Gaza” in which 5 Palestinian young women hosted 35 students, mostly American with a few other nationalities, and provided them with a interdisciplinary and hands-on experience of life in Gaza. At the end of the various presentations Mr. Steininger, thanked everyone for their information and simply stated, on the topic of at risk youth and barriers to education, “I heard it in different words yesterday,” from John Ging. Mr. Steininger posed good questions, one regarding the use of Tremedol in Gaza. Mr. Abu Tawahina explained the purpose of Tremedol—a painkiller/anti-depressant which should only be accessed with a prescription, and the challenge of monitoring the use of the drug given the situation of the tunnels and smuggling. Mr. Steininger also inquired as to the general response to Obama’s recent speech from Cairo, and the suggestion of “mass organized civil disobedience.” All around it was a great exchange of ideas, questions, answers and suggestions. Hopefully everyone who was at the roundtable discussion today left feeling a little more connected and informed.

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