Students raise awareness for Palestinian justice
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 07:11
The students didn’t say a word — some wore masking tape over their mouths with the words “FREE PALESTINE”— as they walked slowly to the Library from the Marshall Student Center (MSC).
The violence going on halfway around the world, they said, spoke loud enough.
While the death toll crossed 100 in Gaza as Israeli missile strikes intensified Monday, the silent demonstrators spent much of the day outside the MSC, holding Palestinian flags and signs with messages such as “Israel = apartheid” and “We are with you Gaza.” They passed out small cards to passersby with facts about the long and violent history between Israel and Palestine.
Some nodded and smiled as they took the cards. Some hadn’t heard of Palestine. A few crumpled them and threw it back at the demonstrators.
But regardless of what people took away from it, Ahmad Saadaldin, a junior majoring in English and an organizer of the event, said he hoped the event would raise awareness and show solidarity for the people of Gaza.
“We want people to know where their tax dollars are going,” he said. “We give Israel billions of dollars every year. ... Right now (Israel has) got Gaza in a chokehold, and they continue to punch Gaza every day, so we’re just letting people know what’s going on.”
Haneen Ali, who graduated last year, said she came out to show her support for the people of Gaza.
As an American with Palestinian heritage, she said she feels torn knowing the U.S. government supports Israel’s military efforts during this time. President Barack Obama has unequivocally supported Israel’s rights to self-defense.
Ali has family in Palestine, but said regardless of whether one has connections to Palestine or not, the issue is a humanitarian one.
“We have to be their voice,” she said. “Israel’s unplugged electricity on Gaza, so they literally have no voice anymore. ... Gazans are our family. All of them.”
An hour into the demonstration, two students from the Hillels of the Florida Suncoast, an on-campus Jewish life organization, set up a small poster board decked with blue and silver lining and distributed Kit-Kat bars and fliers inviting the public to a discussion in the evening about Israel’s right to self-defense.
“We want people to get educated on the conflict in the Middle East,” Helen Menasche, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, said. “Under international law, Israel has every obligation to defend themselves. I feel bad for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. They’re both suffering from all the rockets, and it’s just a pity that Israel has to defend itself and sometimes civilians get in the way because they’re trying to stop the head leaders causing the attacks.”
While some of the demonstrators looked at the Hillel students questioningly, asking each other softly what they were doing, others walked over to them — and despite that their signs contained diametrically opposing messages, they giggled and chatted with each other.
“I think everyone has the right to freedom of speech,” Menasche said. “Unfortunately we are outnumbered. But I appreciate their peacefulness and silence about it. Because it’s silent and peaceful it allows each person to get their point across.”
Sanah Abukhdeir, a senior majoring in biology who said she is “100 percent Palestinian” and had strong views against Israel politically, said she, too, appreciated the Hillel students’ demeanor.
“They were very decent and nice,” she said. “They were doing their part, just as we were doing our part.”
Saadaldin said the issue is one he hopes does not disappear from dialogue.
“Everyone should care,” he said. “We’re lucky and blessed to be born in America. We’re free from such tyranny. I could have easily been born there. I would hate to be one of the people suffering right now. I don’t think it’s fair to lead my life without doing anything, when I could be one of them.”