News | Academics

Columbia launches Center for Palestine Studies

Columbia launched the first-ever Center for Palestine Studies in the United States on Thursday night, and organizers said that, despite limited funds, they are pushing forward.

The center, which will run out of the University’s Middle East Institute in Knox Hall, was created by a group of faculty with the goal of promoting and advancing Palestine studies in a wide range of subjects, from politics to the arts.

“Columbia has one of the most distinguished faculty of people that work on Palestine studies, and it was some sort of a logical outgrowth of that community,” Brinkley Messick, co-director of the Center for Palestine Studies, said.

The Middle East Institute is over 50 years old on campus, but this center is the first of its kind.

The center was also created in honor of former professor Edward Said, who taught at Columbia for 40 years before his death in 2003 and is widely known for his book “Orientalism.”

“He was one of the most prominent scholars of the late 20th century in literary criticism and public intellect, and one of his main interests was the question of Palestine,” Messick said. “He drew people to the University in his day, and that legacy is still alive, and that too fed into the realization that there was a very substantial community of scholars here that could well benefit from and contribute to a new center.”

The goals of the center, which has been in discussion since late 2009, focus on the promotion of scholarship in Palestinian history, culture, arts, and literary studies. “One of the missions of the center is to inform people about the Palestinians in an academic setting,” said Bashir Abu-Manneh, an English professor at Barnard.

The official launch on Thursday attracted a full lecture hall of students, professors, and even some guests from outside of Columbia.

“It is monumental to have a space at Columbia University that represents the voice of a people that do not have their own. It is important to come to these spaces so that we can lend our voices,” said Lawrence Cobb-El, executive director of nonprofit School Streets and Beyond.

Although the center is now official, the details of its funding are not yet clear—a fact that caused concern among attendees at Thursday’s event.

“I’m hoping that they encourage funding, especially for writers outside of the institution,” said Sousan Hammad, a journalist from Palestine. “They should allocate resources to people who normally wouldn’t have access to it.”

Rashid Khalidi, co-director of the center, said in a speech at the launch that the center has little funding thus far and is soliciting donations.

Students, too, expressed concerns over funding.

“The center is a really big deal since it is the first of its kind, although I’m not sure how it will work out because of the lack of funding,” Kati Fossett, CC ’11, said.

Some attendees hoped to bring more attention to the arts through the center. “I hope they encourage Palestinian writers and artists. They should connect with Palestinians outside the academic circle,” Suneela Mubayi, CC ’07, said.

Khalidi said that they are just starting to implement programs. “Our activities, that are almost all in the planning stage, include lectures, conferences, art screenings, and developing archives.”
For some students, the center is an opportunity to emphasize Palestinian studies in the classroom.

“As a political science student, I’m really excited,” Samira Khalifa, CC ’11, said. “There aren’t that many courses that have anything to do with Palestinian struggles.”

Professors from some of the University’s other centers said that the creation of a Palestine-specific organization is an important step for academia at Columbia in general.

“I think that this is a significant moment for Columbia University, if only because the lack of knowledge about Palestinians and Palestine is pervasive,” Yinon Cohen, a professor in the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, wrote in an email. “It is, I believe, precisely a center like this that can begin changing this reality.”

“It is so groundbreaking for the University as a whole,” said Aviva Buechler, BC ’11 and president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel. “With their mission of studying the history, culture, and politics of Palestine, I think it will really be a great experience for students to take part in.”

“I do hope to see some real collaboration between the Center for Palestine Studies and the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies,” Buechler said.

Amber Tunnell contributed reporting.

news@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

Ironically, Columbia University was one of the U.S. universities recently criticized by the University Teachers Association [UTA] in Palestine for planning to offer programs to U.S. students at Israeli universities, in defiance of aworldwide call by Palestinian solidarity activists for an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Its Sept. 24, 2010 press release, for example, states:

"Besieged Gaza, 24 September.2010

"At a time when the Israeli ongoing crimes against us the Palestinians are at their most visible, their most documented and their most condemned by civil society around the world, we were shocked to learn of the plans by the Universities of Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Washington, Miami and New Jersey City to offer semester long free programs to American students in Israel at the Jerusalem Hebrew University, Haifa University, The Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and Carmiel.[1]

"...How are we supposed to believe that such reputed US academic institutions abide by their own codes of conduct when they embrace Israeli academic institutions that contribute on various fronts to the ongoing injustices committed against us each day? The very institutions that remained quiet while their government for three weeks over the New Year of 2009 dropped white phosphorous bombs over us in Gaza, killed over 1443 civilians, including 430 children, bombed our hospitals, roads and bridges and violently attacked an array of our own educational institutions?

"Facts speak for themselves: more than 37 primary and secondary schools including 18 schools serving as shelters for the internally displaced were hit, the American International school was turned to rubble, and four buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) demolished.[2] Israeli claims that the IUG's science laboratories were used `to make weapons' was categorically refuted by forensic evidence. There is on the other hand no dispute about the American origin of the F15s, F16s, and Apache helicopters used to bomb and kill the 1443 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians according to the UN Goldstone report [3] and every other human rights report. No dispute on the use of white phosphorous, 'flechette’ nail bombs and tungsten, all deemed illegal by International Human Rights law and the Geneva Conventions. The Goldstone report listed count after count of international law contraventions, Israeli “war crimes” and “possible crimes against humanity,” not that we should need such a qualification given the horrific numbers of children and women slaughtered in the attack, or crippled thereafter.

"Moreover, the collaboration between Israel’si academy and its military and intelligence services has now reached the point of establishing strategic studies institutions, think tanks and entire security studies departments and institutes, many of which are located at or affiliated with the universities involved in this collaboration.

"This might explain why Israeli academic Institutions have for so long remained silent on the crimes their state is committing. A report released by the Alternative Information Center in October 2009 titled `Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories'[4] concludes that, `Israeli academic institutions have not opted to take a neutral, apolitical position toward the Israeli occupation but to fully support the Israeli security forces and policies toward the Palestinians, despite the serious suspicions of crimes and atrocities hovering over them.'

"All the Israeli universities were found to be involved in supporting the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank in a myriad of ways. The report describes how 2 of the potential partner institutions to the 8 US Universities; Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have sponsored various academic programs for Israeli military reserves, granted scholarships to students who served in the Israeli attack on Gaza, and maintain ties to leading Israeli weapons manufacturers. One of the two campuses of the Hebrew University was built in occupied East Jerusalem, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention...

"In light of these ongoing, yet unanswered crimes and in the immediate aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI)[14] was launched. Based on the 2004 call issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)[15], and the Palestinian Boycotts Divestment (BDS) call of 2005[16], the movement has grown relentlessly. Today, over 500 US-based academics have endorsed their call for boycotts of Israeli Academic Institutions, a show of conscience and moral duty the 8 US Universities in question are encouraged to follow....

"This boycott, modeled upon the global BDS movement that put an end to South African apartheid, is to continue until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

"Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
We demand boycotts of Israel until it complies with international law, and until justice and accountability are reached. Like the Blacks of South Africa and African Americans, we can never accept compromise on basic human rights.

"The history of American academic institutions against apartheid is telling. During the South African divestment efforts, Columbia University disinvested from the Apartheid regime as early as 1978 after a major student mobilization. Harvard University on the other hand did not disinvest until the final year of Apartheid in 1989. The consensus since has fortunately proved that until the last the latter institution stood on the wrong side of history...

"Given Israeli academia’s entrenched involvement in such a long-running subjugation of a people along medieval lines of race and religion, we would expect the US institutions and all those around the world to follow the call of Archbishop Desmond Tutu; to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israeli Academic Institutions....We hope that these institutions will reconsider their decision..."

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Anonymous posted on

Why didn't the article even dare to cover another, negative, side to the story? It does not acknowledge ANY dissent.

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Anonymous posted on

There wasn't any dissent among the event-goers. Everyone there was supporting the cause. In fact, I was quite surprised at the fact that there weren't any protestors at all.

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Anonymous posted on

Look, the reporter sought the opinion of at least two potential critics - a professor in the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel - both of whom were supportive. Until there are obvious protests (internal or external) about this center, there's no reason to report this story any differently than a Center for Flanders Studies or a Center for Uighur Studies.

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Anonymous posted on

So maybe some of these "activists" can actually receive credit for courses like:

Rock Throwing 101 - Jews in Middle East all illegal so it's OK

Bomb Belt Sewing 201

Making Kassam Missiles

Boycott Divestment and Sanction 301

Pallywood 401 - whinging, whining, lying and drive by shooting

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Anonymous posted on

Haha, SO FUNNY when people try to sow seeds of conflict by using the ridiculous stereotypes that ignoramuses thinkup!!! Think smarter next time, Holden-McGroin. You probably don't go to Columbia considering this crap that's swirling around your head. And if you do, God help you - this probably isn't the place for you...

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Anonymous posted on

Peace, Please, You're correct, Columbia isn't a place for those who dissent from the Kool-Aid drinkers! No room for dissent at Columbia, just think the way we do, or you're on the outside looking in.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you, Peace please. And by the way, please keep me inform in the remote case they have a course on Making Kassam Missiles. It would useful!

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you, Peace Please. And Please, keep me informed of the remote possibility they have any course on the relationship between Jewish terror and Nazism, or How Palestine learn to make bombs from Irgun. It would be really good to clear up so much propaganda and learn something from history. Interested Spaniard

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Anonymous posted on

Peace, Please-Yeah I want to go to Colombia so I can celebrate Iran, Palestine, Syria and the religion of death. So nice of you to build a terrorist cell so close to Ground Zero.

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Anonymous posted on

I can tell you are also brainwashed by Faux News. No wonder the country is 11th in Education among industrial nations. With morons like you and Neil, it's easy to figure out

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Anonymous posted on

Historically, Palestine was never a sovereign power, and there were never such people-hood called Palestinians. The today so called Palestinians are A-R-A-B-S. The PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization, so states in their own charter, "Palestinians are integral part of the Arab Nation." Mr. Rashid Kahlidi among others of his ilk continue to mislead and do their utmost to create a people-hood that do not exist even as we speak. Kahalidi and his ilk will stop at nothing to achieve their ultimate goal, the destruction of the Jewish State, Israel; Kahalidi and his ilk are motivated by their hatred of Jews. One wonders how Colombia University let a person like Kahalidi rewrite history? Colombia University should think twice before they let such cons as Kahlidis use the university to create a program based on falsehood.

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Anonymous posted on

As a former Columbia student, I have a few questions about the goals of this new institute. Granted, I did not attend the inaugural event, so maybe some of these questions were answered then. I should say that I don't object to the idea of an institute devoted to Palestinian culture, architecture, what have you.

I do take issue with the politically loaded tone that the institute seems to adopt. Consider, for instance, the name "Center for Palestine Studies." What is Palestine? To be sure, it is a geographical region, but this geographical region also includes the nation of Israel. So, does the institute intend to study Israeli culture, too? There is no nation-state called Palestine, nor has there ever been: by definition, then, the institute cannot be devoted to a country of "Palestine."

Moreover, in using the the term "Palestine," whose definition the institute invoke? Is it the Hamas defintion, whereby the Jewish state of Israel should be dissolved, and the Palestinians should be allowed to return to the areas where their grandparents/great-gradparents may have once lived? Or is it Israeli/American vision for "Palestine," which imagines a united West Bank and Gaza Strip (assuming the governments of those two regions can stop killing each other)? The name "Center for Palestine Studies" is irresponsible/unacademic by nature of its ambiguity. And it's provocative to boot.

Finally, the center claims to be devoted to supporting academic freedom in the "Occupied Territories." To which territories do they refer, precisely? Gaza? Israel pulled out of there years ago now. And whose definition of "occupied" are we employing? And does such a definition allow for the fact that Israel is essentially a nation at war and has been since its birth over 60 years ago?

In sum, the center's mission statement seems to raise more questions than it answers, all with a subtly biased undertone. Again, I support a center devoted to a study of the Palestinian people and their history/culture, but I don't support a center that takes a narrow and unacademic approach from the get-go. If the center is as badly in need of funding as they say it is, maybe a more objective outlook would suit it well.

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Anonymous posted on

The right of return for the Palestinian Diaspora is now supported by most people in the world, as well as by UN resolution 194. The Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that the IDF occupied inn 1967 is now considered illegally occupied territory by most people in the world, as well as by UN Security Council Resolution 242. In addition, many people around the world now believe that pre-1967 Israel should be transformed into a secular, democratic, non-Zionist society in which all people, regardless of their religious background, would have equal rights. Columbia University, as an institution, should, therefore, now be expressing support for the full self-determination rights of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in 2010.

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Anonymous posted on

you're essentially arguing for dissolution of the modern state of Israel, an unfeasible objective that would never come to pass without massive bloodshed and destruction. If only for that reason, I'm sure that people who matter around the world don't support what you suggest that they do. by the way, the same United Nations that you cite as the creator of resolution 194 is also the United Nations that created the Jewish state to begin with. Their track record isn't exactly one shade of grey, so you can't just pick and choose documentation from 60 years ago and then present as some form of absolute truth to which we should all be held.

While I don't support the style of the David Horowtiz's of the world, it's this very form of politicized scholarship that feeds the fires of people of his ilk. And it's this very of non-objective inquiry that has sent the humanities far down the totem pole relative to the scientific disciplines. I'm disappointed that the founders of this center couldn't achieve their objective in a more academically honest, open-spirited manner (and disappointed in Columbia for attaching its good name to what appears to be in large part a politically motivated project).

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Anonymous posted on

Once the undemocratic special influence that domestic lobbying groups which unethically support Israeli militarism currently have over U.S. government foreign policy in the Middle East is reduced, U.S. military aid to the IDF will probably eventually be ended and the current Israeli government (like the South African apartheid regime in the early 1990s) will probably have to finally start negotiating in good faith with its Palestinian and Israeli political opponents and not again create more "massive bloodshed and destruction" in defiance of world public opinion. The UN that partitioned Palestine in 1947 had only 55 members and included only 4 African countries, since the rest of the countries of Africa were still colonies in 1947; and most people in the Middle East opposed the UN's partition plan in 1947, since it undemocratically granted 55 percent of Palestine's land to the Zionist movement-- although only 30 percent of Palestine's population was then of Jewish religious background and only 6 percent of Palestine's land was then owned by people of Jewish religious background. In addition, although the Zionist movement was only authorized to control 55 percent of Palestine's land by the UN in 1947, by 1949 around 80 percent of Palestine's land had been taken over by the Zionist movement and over 750,000 Palestinians had been driven out of Palestine, in order to create a religiously sectarian Jewish state. Yet for many years a U.S. citizen who is born and raised in Brooklyn or a Russian citizen who is born and raised in Moscow has been allowed--on the basis of family religiious background--to just hop on a jet and become an Israeli resident and a voter in Israeli elections, while a Palestinians whose family was driven out of Palestine after 1947 can't just return to Palestine/Israel and help establish a democratic, secular, unitary, non-Zionist society there.

If you check out a copy of Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States" or the final chapter of W.E.B. DuBois's "Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880," which is titled "The Propaganda of History," you'll notice that the scientific disciplines, the humanities and the social sciences at universities like Columbia have always been politicized, non-objective in one way or another; and many of the centers set up by Columbia during the last 50 years have often been academically dishonest, in order to promote the hidden agendas of the U.S. foreign policy-making and military-industrial-academic complex scientific/technocratic establishment.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you for this informative response outlining how the U.N like most bodies and individuals evolve with time

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Anonymous posted on

Run by two academics who are notorious enemies of Israel, looks like this center should more aptly be named:

"Islamo-Fascist Center for Promoting Genocide Against Israel"

What a shame for Columbia to be associated with such enemies of Western Civilization!

GM (Class of '73)

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Anonymous posted on

Dont even waste your time 'Feldcan'. These people don't know or care about history, or the truth.. Faux News beat you to them. Just give it up. lol

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Anonymous posted on

"“It is monumental to have a space at Columbia University that represents the voice of a people that do not have their own. It is important to come to these spaces so that we can lend our voices,” said Lawrence Cobb-El, executive director of nonprofit School Streets and Beyond."

Can I suggest an edit to Mr. Cobb-El's statement? One that makes explicit the implicit?

"“It is monumental to have a space at Columbia University that represents the voice of a people that refuse to have their own, unless it is 100% on their own righteous terms. It is important to come to these spaces so that we can lend our voices to that principled and stubborn refusal,” said Lawrence Cobb-El, executive director of nonprofit School Streets and Beyond. "Until the Palestinians can defeat Israel and regain their holy land, they must struggle on, no matter the cost in lives and suffering. Brave Palestinians ready to give all for their country, never ever willing to compromise, we salute you."

Chaver Steve C '66

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Anonymous posted on

Amazing. Way to go columbia! No matter how much you others claim that "there is no palestine" there are millions of people out there who call themselves palestinian. Yes they are arab..but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Just because your white...can you not be italian? Just because your african...can you not be nigerian? Your arguments are absurd. The palestinians have their own distinct culture, foods, traditions than surrounding arabs. They have a different arabic dialect and definitely DO exist even if their country doesn't. I think its great that they get to study a peoples culture and society. Also, there is no bias at the school considering the fact that there already is a center for israeli and jewish studies. Obviously, based on these comments, people have a lot to learn about palestinians and their culture. they're not just a political unit. They're actual people you know. They have their own arts and culture and anyone opposed to learning about that is truly closed minded. Hopefully this new system will allow for more understanding of the conflict. This is a step in the right direction. Good job america

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Anonymous posted on

This is an absolute disgrace to Colubmia and academia.
Palestine is a recent creation. There is NO Palestinian language, currency, or any other markers of a people. The real Palestinians are the ancient Phillistines.
Columbia believes in revisionist history, eh?
Disgraceful.

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