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Sami Shalom Chetrit, associate professor at Queens College, discusses his experiences filming a documentary on renowned Israeli poet Erez Bitton in the Peter O’Ddonnel Jr. Building on Monday evening.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Erez Biton used his literary talents to invent a type of language through poetry that had been previously non-existent in Israeli society, according to a visiting Israeli professor from New York.

Prior to Biton’s poetry, Hebrew literature primarily dealt with the motives of Jewish life in Europe, according to Sami Shalom Chetrit, a renowned Moroccan-Israeli poet and professor, who spoke Monday at the Avaya auditorium.

“[Biton] writes about this singer in the court of the king of Morocco, [which] was new and never done before,” Chetrit said. “The essence of his poetry is that he was searching.”

One of the most inspiring aspects of Biton’s story, according to Cherit, was his ability to use his experiences as a blind man to approach poetry in his own way. 

Briton became blind at a young age when he lost his sight in an accident with a hand grenade.

“We went walking around. And that’s when we found that bomb, that hand grenade,” Biton said. “I was so convinced that it was a treasure that I wanted to open it myself. I took it one hand and hit it with a hammer, and it exploded.”

In a documentary produced by Chetrit about the poet’s life, Biton said his disability allowed him to relate to other individuals in unfortunate circumstances. This contributed to his active role with the Israeli Black Panthers, a prominent socialist organization in the 1970s. 

“[When] all the panthers were enlisted into the war, I found myself completely alone,” Biton said in the documentary. “That’s when I started producing poetry.”

Biton spent a period of his life in Morocco and was motivated by the societal injustices he saw to create revolutionary poetry. Chetrit said he created the documentary in order to spread Biton’s story to those who hadn’t heard it.

Middle Eastern Studies lecturer Lior Sternfeld’s said Chetrit inspired him.

“A while ago, Chetrit was the person that, for my generation, revealed another Israeli society,” Sternfeld said.

The descriptive imagery found in Biton’s poetry allows the art to transcend language barriers and be consumed by people of all backgrounds, according to Chetrit.

“It’s a unique way to describe the world in so many colors, sounds and images,” Cherit said. “He sees so many things much better than us.”

Fireworks burst as opponents of Egypt's Islamist ousted president Mohammed Morsi rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday. A Health Ministry official says several people have been killed in clashes around the country involving opponents and backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as security forces

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After a military coup in Egypt, college students participating in the Arabic Flagship program in Alexandria are being relocated to Meknes, Morocco for the remainder of their year abroad. 

The program has 18 students, including six from UT. The other students are from The University of Okalhoma, The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and The University of Maryland. 

The move is a safety mesaure in response to civic unrest and the Egyptian military’s annoucement Wednesday to oust President Mohammed Morsi from power. The decision to relocate was made by the Language Flagship, the American Councils for International Education and the directors of the five universities. The plan to move the students to Morocco has been a possibility ever since students were evacuated from Syria and Egypt in spring 2011.

“In 2011, Flagship students evacuated from Egypt and Syria were brought directly back to the United States, preventing them from continuing their Arabic-immersive experience,” said Christian Glakas, a senior program coordinator for the department of Middle Eastern studies.  “As a result, the directors of the five stateside Arabic Flagship Programs began discussing with the American Councils and the Language Flagship contingency plans for continuing the program in an alternative location in the event of a future evacuation.”

Students were informed of the relocation Tuesday morning before their classes. Initially, English senior Adam Amrani, a student in the program, was dissapointed by the move.

“The Flagship program runs a summer-long program in Meknes, so there is an established program in the city. The logistics are still being worked out,” Amrani said. “One of the major differences that we can expect is the language difference. The Moroccan dialect is vastly different from the Egyptian dialect.”

Amrani said he feels safe. He said students are prohibited from leaving their dorms and participating in the protests, but still witness the events taking place around them.

“It’s very exciting, inspiring and very confusing all at once,” Amrani said. “Watching the presidential speeches and the Egyptian army’s official statement live with Egyptian students has been great. Being witness to the power of peaceful protest is moving.”

Amarni said before students can participate in the program, they must receive an avdanced score on a government language exam, along with studying Arabic intensively for three years and participating in outside activities throughout their time in the program.

Although the students are being relocated this year and will not return to Egypt during their time abroad, administrators do not think this will affect the future of the flagship program.

“It is difficult to predict how current events may affect the Arabic Overseas Flagship program in the future,” Glakas said. “The Arabic Flagship Program at UT Austin will continue to work with all of its partners to ensure that our students have a safe and beneficial immersive experience while studying abroad.”

While the program will continue, Dr. Mahmound Al-Batal, director of the Arabic Flagship Program, said Egypt does need change. 

“What happened in Egypt reflects the failure of the Muslim Brothers’ government in building national consensus and improving the quality of life of people in Egypt,” Al-Batal said. “As a results, millions of people felt that a change was needed and the army has responded to this sentiment among millions of Egyptians. What Egypt needs now is to build stability through wide political representation in the government, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt needs a strong president who can bring all the various political factions together.”

Follow Wynne Davis on Twitter @wynneellyn.

RABAT, Morocco — Nearly a year after Morocco was shocked by the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her alleged rapist, the government has announced plans to change the penal code to outlaw the traditional practice.

A paragraph in Article 475 of the penal code allows those convicted of “corruption” or “kidnapping” of a minor to go free if they marry their victim and the practice was encouraged by judges to spare family shame.

Women’s rights activists on Tuesday welcomed Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid’s announcement, but said it was only a first step in reforming a penal code that doesn’t do enough to stop violence against women in this North African kingdom.

Last March, 16-year-old Amina al-Filali poisoned herself to get out of a seven-month-old abusive marriage to a 23-year-old she said had raped her. Her parents and a judge had pushed the marriage to protect the family honor. The incident sparked calls for the law to be changed.

The traditional practice can be found across the Middle East and in places like India and Afghanistan where the loss of a woman’s virginity out of wedlock is a huge stain on the honor of the family or tribe.

RABAT, Morocco — Syrians in the military and business who still support President Bashar Assad should turn against him, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday.

“The longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor. If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes,” Clinton said at a news conference in Morocco as she conveyed a message to those holdouts backers of the embattled leader.

Syria’s authoritarian government held a referendum on a new constitution Sunday, but the opposition deemed it an empty gesture and the West dismissed the vote as a “sham.”

Activists estimate close to 7,500 people have been killed in the 11 months since Assad’s crackdown on dissent began.

“Assad would have the Syrian people believe that it is only terrorists and extremists standing against the regime. But that is wrong,” Clinton said. “So many Syrians are suffering under this relentless shelling. All Syrians should be working together to seek a better future.”

Clinton was among the international officials who discussed the crisis during a conference Friday in Tunisia. They are trying to develop a united strategy to push Assad from power and they began planning a civilian peacekeeping mission to deploy after his government falls.

Moroccans and Syrian expatriates gesture as they hold a Syrian during a protest in solidarity with the Syrian people, in Rabat Morocco, outside the Moroccan foreign ministry as the Arab League foreign ministers meet in Rabat, Morocco on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RABAT, Morocco — The Arab League confirmed the suspension of Syria from the organization on Wednesday and gave its government three days to halt the violence and accept an observer mission or face economic sanctions.

The suspension — first announced by the Arab League on Saturday and confirmed during the meeting — is a surprisingly harsh and highly unusual move for a member of Syria’s standing.

Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim told reporters following the daylong meeting in Rabat, Morocco, that Syria is being offered the chance to end the violence against civilians and implement a peace plan that the Arab League outlined on Nov. 2. The U.N. estimates that more than 3,500 people have been killed in Syria’s 8-month-old uprising.

“The Syrian government has to sign the protocol sent by the Arab League and end all violence against demonstrators,” he said, adding that it has three days. “Economic sanctions are certainly possible, if the Syrian government does not respond. But we are conscious that such sanctions would touch the Syrian people.”

The protocol calls for an observer mission of 30-50 members under the auspices of the Arab League to ensure that Syria is following the Arab plan, calling for the regime to halt its attacks on protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners, and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.

The protocol did not specifically say if Syria’s suspension from the organization has remained in force, but an official from the Moroccan Foreign Ministry confirmed that is the case. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the media.

The Arab League also demanded the withdrawal of Syria’s representative to the organization.

“In the light of insulting and undiplomatic words of the permanent Syrian representative, the Arab League is asking the Syrian government to withdraw its representative,” said the League statement, without identifying the behavior in question.

The Arab League has rarely taken decisive actions to deal with crises in the Arab world out of reluctance to criticize fellow governments. But in this case, several members have described their forceful engagement in the Syrian situation as a way of staving off the kind of foreign intervention that took place in Libya earlier this year. NATO’s bombing campaign against Libya took place less than a month after it was suspended by the Arab League on Feb. 22.

“Arab leaders don’t have a legacy of commenting and interfering in domestic events in Arab countries, so now this is a turning point for the Arab League,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad, a Cairo-based commentator on Arab affairs.

“Arab governments are being exposed to pressure from their public, from the Syrian people and on the international level, so the Arab League has to do something — they can’t keep staying on the sidelines,” he added.

Even Turkey, which once had close ties with Syria, has expressed increasing concern over the situation across the border.

“We denounce the mass murder of the Syrian people,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was in Morocco for a meeting on Arab-Turkish ties. “It is all of our responsibility to end the bloodshed in Syria.”

Bin Jassim of Qatar declined to give any details about possible economic sanctions against Syria, if it refuses the observer mission. But the Arab news channel al-Arabiya suggested they would likely take place in coordination with Turkey and include the energy sector.

Its suspension from the Arab League has enraged Syria, which considers itself a bastion of Arab nationalism. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem boycotted Wednesday’s meeting.

The threat of Arab sanctions comes on top of rising threats of sanctions from European countries and the United States as well leaving Syria even more isolated.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby confirmed that the organization has been in touch with the Syrian opposition and said it has identified 16 regions in particular that needed to be monitored.

“We have spoken with the Syrian opposition on all topics, but they never requested weapons,” he added.

Printed on Thursday, November 17, 2011 as: Arab League acknowledges Syria's suspension