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January 22, 2003

One would think that so reputable a scholar as Edward Said of Columbia would have added his two cents worth to straighten out these fools at his own university who think Israel does not exist. After all, he was photographed tossing rocks at Israeli post. Dreams of a Debate

Columbia Spectator

The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" has special significance when it comes into play in the Middle East. The use of the visual medium to convey messages continues to be common practice in the Middle East: Arab dictators have their faces plastered throughout the streets of their capitals, and Muslim fundamentalists use the backdrop of the Dome of the Rock to convey their historic claim. This affinity for the visual medium, however, is not limited to the region. This week, Columbia University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures has submitted its own visual interpretation of the Middle East, and it is, not surprisingly, one devoid of Israel.

As complicated as the situation in the Middle East is, it has become rather clear to all parties involved that, eventually, there will have to be two states for the two peoples. This mutual recognition of rights is imperative for any peace to exist. But before each of the sides can recognize the other's right to the land, they must understand the other's story.

With that in mind, I was shocked to see a map resembling the British Mandate of Palestine on the posters of the Palestinian Film Festival, which will be held at Columbia this weekend. The map was painted in deep red and labeled Palestine in place of Israel. With white doves flying along the top of the map and no mention of the State of Israel, this vision of the Middle East endorsed by Columbia's MEALAC Department seems to suggest that there will only be peace once Israel ceases to exist.

The problem lies not with the fact that MEALAC is sponsoring this festival, entitled "Dreams of a Nation," but rather in the fact that MEALAC, a department that should educate and present all the sides and ideologies of the cultures of the Middle East and Asia, has consistently focused on the Palestinian side of the issue, not legitimately addressing the Israeli-Zionist narrative. When quickly scanning the work and ideological leaning of the MEALAC faculty, one sees a clear and unabashed bias most recently reflected in this film festival but also evident in the fact that nearly the entire department signed the divestment petition, along with, among others, most of the Anthropology department.