Judith Kolokoff's political awareness began at an early age.
Growing up in Chicago, Kolokoff cut her teeth on causes such as the anti-McCarthy movement and school desegregation. The 73-year-old Seattle grandmother's most recent cause, one she has been vocal about for close to a decade, is peace in the Middle East.
She will bring her perspective on the issues surrounding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to Juneau this week.
Kolokoff, a self-described secular Jew, has been to Israel three times since 1994. Each time, she says, she has traveled throughout the tiny country - Israel is about the size of New Jersey - visiting Palestinians and seeing the effects of the struggle firsthand.
The U.S. government has mediated peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority as recently as the late 1990s, but significant negotiations have been stalled since the region erupted into violence in late 2000.
Kolokoff believes Israel should pull its troops out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City of Jerusalem and hotly contested religious sites significant to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Israel won those areas in the Six-Day War of 1967.
"I don't believe in nationalistic sanction and I don't believe in occupation," said Kolokoff, who spent six years as executive director of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, though she isn't a Quaker.
The Juneau Friends Meeting and the Juneau World Affairs Council are sponsoring Kolokoff's visit to promote dialogue about the Middle East conflict, said Amy Paige, who is coordinating the visit.
"Everyone has a share of the truth, and there's no one side that has a monopoly," Paige said.
Kolokoff believes the Palestinians have not received balanced press coverage, and said she feels an obligation to offer their perspective.
She believes Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is incapable of stopping the suicide bombings, which she says are the act of an oppressed and desperate people. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is up for re-election on Tuesday, is "a butcher," she says.
Kolokoff expresses particular concern about a wall the Israeli government began building last summer between Israel and the West Bank.
"It feels to me like this is the beginning of ethnic cleansing," she said.
Not everyone agrees.
Brian Goldberg, the executive director of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, says peace is being thwarted by suicide bombings, which he says are sponsored and encouraged by the Palestinian leadership.
Goldberg believes the United States must involve itself in the conflict because of its singular status as a world superpower.
"We as Americans generally recognize that Israel is our only true ally in the Middle East and is the only democracy in the Middle East. I think most Americans after Sept. 11 recognize that Israel is on the front line for western civilization's war on terrorism," he said from Seattle.
Kolokoff will be speak to the Juneau World Affairs Council at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Dimond Court Building, and at 7 p.m. Thursday at Northern Light United Church.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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