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Students demonstrate over conflict in Middle East

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(above left)Students hold a banner on the HUB lawn supporting the Israeli state. (above right)Rana Haddad leads the pro-Palestine demonstration on the steps of Gerberding Hall.

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Among a sea of signs at Thursday’s protests, one stated simply, “We all just want peace.”

Members of pro-Palestine and pro-Israel organizations confronted one another yesterday over recent violence in the Middle East. The demonstrations started just past noon when pro-Palestinian protestors from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) gathered on the HUB lawn. Standing across from them were students from Hillel UW and Huskies for Israel. Pro-Palestinian speakers took turns speaking into a megaphone while students supporting Israel stood in silence.

The pro-Palestinian group then began to march, chanting and holding banners aloft as they progressed through the Quad and came to a halt on the steps of Gerberding Hall. Across Red Square on the steps in front of Kane Hall, supporters of Israel displayed banners in support of the Middle Eastern state.

“The protest was very animated, and the counter-protest was animated, and you saw a lot of people with families there, both Palestinians and Jews,” said Assaf Oron, a UW Ph.D. student.

Oron is an Israeli human rights activist and conscientious objector to Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After about 30 minutes of chants, such as “Intifada, intifada,” and “Free, free, Palestine,” pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched toward the pro-Israel demonstrators, stopping about 10 feet away from them. The Palestinian supporters continued to chant at the students supporting Israel, who were holding signs and singing. The group of pro-Palestinian protestors then marched on, holding a final rally on the HUB steps before dispersing.

On Jan. 3, after many days of air strikes, Israeli ground forces entered Gaza with the stated purpose of putting an end to the rockets that have been routinely launched into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in the past. While these events were the reason behind the pro-Palestinian demonstration, they were merely the most recent in the long history of Israeli-Palestinian violence that dates back to the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

Emotions ran high among the protestors against Israeli actions in Gaza.

“We’re here today just because our people — the Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Jews — are being killed by the Israeli occupation army in Gaza,” said Jehad Affoneh, vice president of SJP at the UW. “The problem here is not Hamas, nor is it the Israeli people. The problem here is the Israeli occupation.”

The students counter-protesting in support of Israel did not appear emotionally charged, substituting display with steadfastness.

“Our objective wasn’t to come here and open up dialogue with the Palestinian community,” said Leanne Goodman, a member of the board of directors of Huskies for Israel. “We spent our time handing out flyers trying to educate students who are unaware and not necessarily engaged with SJP or the other side of this. ... In a public arena like this, it’s not always a great thing.”

Other demonstrators were there to bring attention to the dire conditions many Palestinians face each day.

“We’re here to say that this didn’t start 12 or 13 days ago,” said UW alumna Hala Dillsi of her motivations for being at the protest. “This started two years ago with this siege on Gaza. Gazans haven’t received food, water, medical supplies, electricity or gas, and it has made life very hard. So, I’m here to stand up and speak out and say ‘not in our names.’”

Dillsi was also in attendance to protest current U.S. policy regarding the Middle East.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with the UW students to make sure that people know exactly what’s happening,” Dillsi said.

Supporters of Israel have been discussing the events outside of the protest with leaders from Hillel UW. Will Berkovitz, executive director of Hillel UW, worked with students to help them express their opinions.

“The Jewish community has multiple voices, and our job is to facilitate the ability of all of those students to express their opinion regardless of what position they stand for, as long as they are within the general framework of what our organization stands for. Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. We don’t believe in the targeting of innocent civilians.”

Oron highlighted the fact that the events in the Middle East affect more people than those directly involved.

“I think UW students must understand that it’s not just a feudal thing amongst people with friends and family there, but it is about them as well,” Oron said. “This is America’s business, and this matters to America’s short-term and long-term interests.”

Reach reporter Anthony Michael Erickson at news@dailyuw.com.

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