The Syrian Peace Talks Look Like a Tragic Farce
Peace talks aiming to bring Syria’s bloody civil war to a conclusion finally began yesterday in Switzerland, the land of peace and harmony. The conference officially starts Friday and will see delegates getting down to the seemingly impossible task of trying to thrash out a deal, but yesterday was the initial meeting of the “Geneva II” conference, where the participants got to let off some steam in lengthy speeches.
All things considered, the occasion didn’t get off to the best start, with Syria’s foreign minister using his speech to accuse some of the nations involved of having “Syrian blood on their hands” before calling the rebels “traitors.” The US and the Syrian opposition used the opportunity to state that Bashar al-Assad had no legitimacy—which, shockingly, didn’t go down too well with the Assad camp—while Syria’s information minister argued with the UN secretary-general before shouting, “Assad will not leave! Assad will not leave!” at the assembled pack of reporters. So it doesn’t look like the negotiations—the first time the opposition and the Syrian government have formally sat down together since the conflict began in 2011—will be particularly fruitful.
The American Student Planning a Palestinian-Israeli Music Festival
Andrew Roseman, like thousands of American students, visited Israel last year to experience the country’s culture and history. But unlike some young tourists, who spend their days getting drunk and tan in Tel Aviv orsecretly pleasuring each other in tents in the desert, the junior from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, embarked on a project to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, at least for a day. Since spending four months in Jerusalem, he’s been working to create a festival (called Man of a Thousand Teas) that would feature musicians from both sides of the Green Line. I haven’t heard of anyone trying anything like that before, so I called Andrew to see how it was going.
VICE: What inspired you to try to organize a festival in Israel?
Andrew Roseman: Well, I was in the process of trying to book a [music] show in Jerusalem and I was talking to my [Palestinian] friends, and I was like, “Hey, I’m going to be playing in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks.” And they couldn’t come, obviously, because people from the Palestinian territories aren’t allowed to just enter Jerusalem without a special pass, and it’s very difficult to get. And on the other side, when I was booking shows in Bethlehem, my Israeli friends said, “Oh, I can’t go because I’m not allowed in Palestinian territory.” After a while, we were like, “You know, it would be kind of sweet if we could start a music festival that would bring together Palestinians and Israelis in a politically neutral area that both Israelis and Palestinians have access to.” There aren’t many places like that, but there are a few and with my friends’ help we were able to find a spot that you don’t need a pass or any sort of form to access—a Bedouin area in the Jerusalem wilderness, basically in the Judean desert. Little by little, it’s coming together, and I’m pretty excited about it.
What’s your perspective on how Palestinian and Israeli youth feel about the conflict between the two sides?
I was there when the most recent Gaza conflict was happening and the rockets were going back and forth. There were a bunch of protests and during one, you had Israelis on one side waving Israeli flags and shouting, “Get Hamas out of Gaza,” and then on the other side you had Palestinians waving Palestinian flags and yelling something—I don’t speak Arabic—about the Intifada. Those are two very different messages. I think young people from this part of this world just kind of grow into their context and they don’t necessarily get many chances to intermingle with each other and actually chill. Most of the people I’ve spoken to have really good intentions—at times, it appears that the issue is too complex and people are dug in too deep for anyone to make any sort of difference—but with that attitude we’ll never get anything done.
While the rest of you have spent the last couple of weeks or so salivating over Usain Bolt’s extensive limbs and laughing at London Mayor Boris Johnson’s hairdo, I’ve been researching the ways in which the Olympic spirit has once again failed us. Now that the Closing Ceremony is over and accomplished nothing aside from showing the world the extent to which five formerly borderline hot women can dry up before they reach middle age, you can all rejoin me in keeping up with the Olympics of Hate. I promise, it won’t be fun.
Read this week’s World Peace Update