The “Vietnam of Our Day”

from Haaretz:

Pro-Palestinian group sees its struggle as ‘Vietnam of our day’

…The chance to participate in a compelling conflict is popular with college-age students on summer breaks. For many Jews, it’s a chance to understand the conflict from a radically pro-Palestinian perspective.

But while most activists read about Mideast politics, volunteers can be clueless about conservative Palestinian culture. That’s led to tensions, including sexual harassment. Some Palestinians assume female activists are permissive because they don’t behave like conservative Palestinian women.

During last week’s workshop, Jamjoum, 52, laid the rules out. He asked women to cover their arms and legs. For men: long pants only. Another volunteer explained how to dodge sexual harassment.

Jamjoum taught the volunteers Arabic phrases, including please, thank you, and I’m a vegetarian. Activists don’t realize they are offending Palestinian housewives when they don’t eat their chicken dishes, he explained.

Noting a Palestinian stereotype about unwashed hippie activists, Jamjoum told the girls makeup was OK. “Some people think to show solidarity with Palestinians, you have to wear ugly clothes. No. We like you nice and clean.”…

The volunteers say the Palestinian conflict is their emblematic issue – as explained by a 24-year old fromDenmark who calls himself Carl: “This is the Vietnam of our generation.”

Some facts worth noting, given the parallel drawn, about the Vietnam of the other day: according to Violations of Human Rights in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (The Ginetta Saga Papers, The Hoover Institution) issued in 1983 by the Aurora Foundation, which was founded by the justly honored heroine of human rights Ginetta Sagan, as many as one million Vietnamese were imprisoned in the infamous “reeducation” camps. Foundation reports indicate that the mortality rate in the camps averaged ten percent a year. During the same period, according to the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 1.6 million fled Vietnam as “boat people,” including the more than 260,000 ethnic Chinese who either took flight or were forced across the border by the Vietnamese government.

In the end, as much as for the arrogant government officials who waged the Vietnam War unmindful of geopolitical history, the story of the war was for its Western opponents, many of whom romanticized and championed North Vietnam and the Vietcong and then quickly washed their hands of the country and its people in the war’s aftermath, just as shameful and black a mark.



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