Arabs snub networkers' gathering in Israel

June 9, 1995

Palestinian and Arab delegates boycotted the sixth Joint European Networking Conference in Israel last month forcing the cancellation of a workshop for Middle Eastern countries on setting up a networking infrastructure and becoming part of the Internet.

Invites from the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association had gone to Palestinians and experts from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain among others. None of them attended.

David Sitman, an Internet consultant at Tel Aviv University and a member of the conference programme committee, said: "Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and Tunisia expressed interest in the workshop and the conference." But he quoted the Lebanese delegate as saying: "The peace is not mature enough."

Judith Kiers of TERENA explained that the organisation had worked together with the Israeli Inter-university Computer Centre in planning the conference.

Therefore, some potential participants from the region considered the conference an Israeli affair.

According to Kiers, the Palestinians had shown an interest in the conference. When members of the TERENA secretariat were in Israel in January, Saleem Zougbi, director of the computer centre at Bethlehem University, came to meet them to make sure they were a European organisation.

"He wanted to know that it was not an Israeli affair. He said he would send ten people to the workshop. But even after trying very hard to get the Jordanians, the Syrians, the Egyptians involved, we had no response," Kiers said.

She tried to contact them by fax and via the Internet. However, she received hints that it was politically unacceptable.

After the conference, Dr Zougbi said he was unable to come because he did not have a "permit to sleep in Israel". He was to have presented a paper arguing strongly for a direct connection between Palestinian academics and European information resources "without an Israeli control element having the ability to shut down this connection or manipulate it".

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