Palestine Week at BYU: Palestine is focus of Kennedy Center Lectures


Three distinguished speakers spoke about various aspects of life in Palestine this week at the David M. Kennedy Center. This was a rare opportunity for BYU students to listen to firsthand accounts of life in the Middle Eastern country.

The first of two speakers who presented on Tuesday ranged from the first woman appointed an Islamic judge in Palestine to a documentary film-maker who has lived and experienced life in the region.

The three events were made possible by cooperation from different departments and clubs on campus, including the MESAS student organization, the Arabic Club, the Kennedy Center, Amnesty International, the English department, and the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages.

On Tuesday, Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih came to the Kennedy Center to speak on Shari’a law and women’s rights in Palestine. Al-Faqih made history in 2009 by becoming the first and only female judge in the Middle East when she became a judge in the Ramallah Shari’a Court in Palestine. In 2010, Al-Faqih was named the 10th most powerful Arab woman by Arab Business magazine.

Melanie Whitlock, a Middle East studies/Arabic major from Sioux Falls, S.D., has been inspired by Al-Faqih’s accomplishments and looked forward to hearing her speak.

“I’ve really enjoyed listening to what she had to say regarding women’s rights in the Middle East and Palestine,” Whitlock said. “It was interesting to see how she views Shari’a law from a woman’s viewpoint and how she presented it to an American audience.”

Jen Marlowe, a Seattle-based, award-winning author and documentary filmmaker spoke on life in Palestine, the conflict in Israel and Palestine, Darfur and her views on the death penalty. She has chronicled the lives of people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since 2009 and worked across the borders toward nonviolence and peaceful reconciliation between Palestine and Israel. Recently, Marlowe has been documenting the lives of Palestinians inside Israel.

Spencer Campbell, an international relations major from Prescott, Ariz., spoke about his love for Palestine and the importance of understanding world cultures.

“Palestine is really important to me and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sore spot for the world,” Campbell said. “I think understanding the culture of a country helps one understand why there are issues; just learning about a culture is fascinating to me.”

James A. Toronto, coordinator for the BYU Middle East Studies/Arabic Program, spoke about the importance of these events for students.

“It is imperative to be knowledgeable about things at home and abroad,” Toronto said. “This is particularly relevant for a part of the world—the Middle East—where BYU and the LDS Church conduct extensive educational, ecclesiastical and humanitarian activities.”

Toronto also explained the purpose and importance of the lectures which are provided for BYU students and faculty.

“The purpose of these public lectures is to provide BYU students and faculty opportunities to interact with and learn from distinguished scholars, government officials, and  experts,” Toronto said. “(They) share their insights, perspective and opinions about challenging international issues that affect all of our lives—regardless of our particular academic discipline.”

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