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Carter Focuses in on Palestine/Israel at Packed Zellerbach

By Judith Scherr
Friday May 04, 2007
Judith Scherr
            Former President Jimmy Carter discusses his book Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid with Orville Schell at UC Berkeley on Wednesday.
Judith Scherr Former President Jimmy Carter discusses his book Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid with Orville Schell at UC Berkeley on Wednesday.

The 39th president of the United States, former peanut farmer and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter, got standing ovations and multiple rounds of applause from a packed Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday afternoon, where he had come at the invitation of two students to speak about his controversial book, Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid. 

Near Zellerbach, students snaked by the hundreds in a long line, many reading the book, hoping to get into the room where Carter was signing books before the talk. 

In the wide plaza outside the hall where Carter was to speak, two small gatherings were separated by the breadth of the plaza: one was made up of about a dozen people from Jewish Voice for Peace and Women in Black, who said they supported Carter’s visit as an opening for dialogue.  

The other, a group of about 20 students from the Jewish Student Union and Hillel, said they supported Carter’s right to speak, but faulted the former president for blaming Jews for the unrest in Israel/Palestine. 

Welcomed by Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, Carter spoke, then answered questions from Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, and written questions from the mostly-student audience. 

The meaning of the provocative title Carter chose for the book was addressed during both the speech and the question period.  

Apartheid in the context of Palestine is at the heart of Carter’s book. Carefully explaining his thesis, the former president said that the book—and thus the term—addresses the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank only.  

Carter pointed out that both former South African President Nelson Mandela and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu use the term “apartheid” with respect to Palestine.  

In the context of Palestine, “apar-theid” does not refer to race. “The enforced segregation and domination of Arabs by Israelis is not based on race, it’s rather based on terrible persecution and oppression in Palestine,” Carter said. 

The domination of the Palestinians “comes from efforts of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and to colonize Palestinian land.” Carter said. “Palestinians have been forcibly removed in their own tiny area [of the West Bank] from the choice hilltops, the vital water resources and the most productive land.”  

They’ve been replaced by heavily subsidized settlers, Carter said, noting there are some 200 settlements and 500 checkpoints in the West Bank. And now, there is a wall “that goes deep inside the West Bank,” he said. 

“All this combined makes the lives of Palestinians almost intolerable,” he added, noting the importance of education and urging UC Berkeley students and professors to go to Palestine and witness the situation for themselves. 

“The plight of the Palestinian people is almost unknown in this country,” he said. 

The suffering is not limited to Palestinians, Carter said. The anger in the Arab world that the situation has provoked has destabilized the region. It has made relationships between Israel and the Arab world “practically impossible,” he said. 

Still, Carter made it clear that he is a supporter of the state of Israel, which he called, “a small nation that exemplified the highest moral ideals based on the Hebrew scriptures that I have taught on Sunday since I was 18 years old, where justice is mentioned 28 times in the Old Testament and righteousness is mentioned 196 times.” 

Carter spoke about the United States’ unwavering support of Israel, and pointed out that the U.S., the United Nations and Israel have refused to recognize the leaders democratically elected to the Palestine National Authority.  

The U.S. must play a role as an “honest broker” if peace is to come to the region, he said. “The U.S. must not be seen as in the pocket of either side … We must always make clear our unswerving commitment to Israel, but we cannot be peacemakers if American government leaders are seen as knee-jerk supporters of every action or policy of whatever Israeli government happens to be in power at the moment.” 

Carter also spoke to the role of the powerful pro-Israeli lobbying group, AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to which, he said, there are “few significant countervailing forces … Any balanced debate is still practically nonexistent in the U.S. Congress or among candidates for the presidency.” 

He said he understands the hopes and fears of both camps. “I am a friend of Israel,” he said. “I understand the fear of many Israelis, that threats still exist against them personally.” Carter said he has always condemned acts of violence against innocent people. 

Still, he said, his efforts in the Middle East are to bring peace and security to Israel and justice and righteousness to the Palestinian people.  

“The bottom line is this: Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors’ land and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights,” he said. 

While most of the audience’s questions focused on Palestine, students wanted to know which presidential candidate Carter supports. By the cheers that rang through the auditorium, they were not disappointed when Carter responded that it is Al Gore. 

“I called him three times about [the] 2008 [election] and he said he wouldn’t run,” said Carter, who had also encouraged Gore to run in 2004. 



A video of the Carter speech can be viewed at events.php.