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In the latest of our regular series of interviews Professor Sarah Brown talks to the Palestinian Ambassador to the United States, Maen Areikat about the importance of his role in Washington amid a fast changing political landscape.

Ambassador Areikat has played a key role in peace negotiations. He discusses the impact of the conflict on Palestinian children and his hopes for the future.

Sarah Brown: What led you to choose a career in diplomacy?

Ambassador Areikat: I actually never considered choosing a career in diplomacy, however I have always been involved in politics and I was raised in a family that was continuously involved in the politics of Jordan and Palestine.

I was very much influenced by my father who became involved during the Israeli occupation in 1967. I knew that I would be playing a role in politics, but getting appointed in 2009 as an Ambassador was something I did not plan for. Nevertheless, I accepted because of the challenges and opportunities that being posted in the US entails.

Sarah Brown: Could you tell us something about the challenges you have faced as a Palestinian diplomat in Washington?

Ambassador Areikat: Working on the Palestinian issue in Washington is a constant uphill battle. As the Chief Representative of a foreign mission that does not enjoy fully fledged diplomatic recognition in the United States, I constantly strive to work with the limited resources and access granted to us in order to improve the image of the Palestinian people and to inform the American public as well as government officials about the reality of occupation. While we have made significant strides over the past few years, Americans continue to be constantly misled by unbalanced coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The good news is that despite the efforts of powerful and resource-rich interest groups to defend and enshrine Israel’s occupation of Palestinians in the US arena, the American public is becoming increasingly aware of the reality on the ground thanks to social media platforms and other alternative venues of information that had not been, heretofore, available.

Sarah Brown: What are the most pressing problems facing children in the occupied Palestinian territories?

Ambassador Areikat: The Israeli occupation has exacted a heavy toll on Palestinian children. In its 50 day assault on Gaza this summer, Israel killed 538 Palestinian children, wounded 3,370 and left 54,000 homeless. In addition to the devastating loses of the war, thousands of children in Gaza and the West Bank suffer of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and have no resources to access therapy or rehabilitation.

Another serious issue that children in Gaza face now is the absence of well-equipped schools. During the summer war alone, more than 277 schools were damaged, of which 136 were UNRWA schools. The education system in the West Bank is disrupted on a daily basis as students and teachers are often unable to get to their schools due to Israeli checkpoints, curfew, etc.

And last but not least, Israel continues to incarcerate Palestinian children in large numbers. Israeli human rights groups such as B’Tselem have released multiple videos showing the traumatic arrests of Palestinian minors in Hebron and other cities. Human rights reports detail serious violations including torture techniques that Israel uses against these minors. Of course, these practices contravene international and human rights law.

Sarah Brown: There is a perception that Americans are more sympathetic to the Israeli than to the Palestinian cause. Can you tell us about any experiences which confirm – or go against – that assumption?

Ambassador Areikat: Nobody can deny that we are witnessing milestone changes in the public’s perception of the conflict. During the most recent war on Gaza, polls and surveys showed that the younger generation and minority groups in America are expressing more support for Palestine. For instance, 18-29 year old Americans said by a 2 to 1 margin (51 percent to 25 percent) that Israel’s actions in Gaza last June were unjustified. In contrast, support for Israel’s assault was remarkably higher for the older generations. Israel’s violations of international law and ongoing occupation can no longer be hidden, disguised, or kept as a secret.

Young Americans, students, and activists who are committed to the principles of justice, freedom, and equality are now sharing information with their peers on social networks and educating the wider society about the plight of Palestinians. The number of Americans who express support for ending the military occupation and the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood is growing quickly, even among the Jewish American community. In fact, the movement that is growing on college campuses and academic institutions demanding justice for Palestinians is indicative of that shift.

Sarah Brown: What is your view on the EU national votes for a Palestinian state…..what hopes do you have that this will become a reality in the near future?

Ambassador Areikat: The EU recognition votes that have been taking place recently are a clear indication that the international community will not tolerate the reality of occupation forever. Palestinian statehood and sovereignty are prerequisites for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We express our gratitude to all the European countries that have, in some form or another, taken steps to advance Palestinian recognition (Ireland, Britain, France, Belgium, Sweden, and Spain) and encourage others to take similar measures to support our just cause and right to independence.

These votes are definitely a step in the right direction for achieving a two-state solution and for granting Palestine the recognition it deserves on the international stage.

Sarah Brown: Could you tell us how you came to support Children of Peace?

Ambassador Areikat: During my trip to Vermont to visit the Champlain College and Vermont Council on World Affairs and Champlain College, I had the pleasure of meeting a Goodwill Ambassador and Friend of Children of Peace, Mahmoud Jabari, who is currently attending Champlain. He detailed to me the great work and mission of Children of Peace and upon communicating with them I felt that it would be very important for me to become involved in any way I could.

All Children of Peace interviews cover a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not necessarily reflect those of Children of Peace.

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