Students sponsor Palestine Awareness Day

A mother lives across the street from her daughter, but they are unable to meet because a wall keeps them apart. This is the reality of living through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, explained Sara Newton, a USF student who co-hosted the Palestine Awareness Day event with Jackie Gugliotti, a USF alumna.

In March the two went on a trip to Palestine through Global Exchange and Code as part of the International Women’s Day delegation.

“We just wanted to see the conflict and understand how the occupation affects Palestinians,” said Newton.

Attendees of yesterday’s event got to see many pictures of Newton and Gugliotti’s trip, which captured the adverse conditions Palestinians endure on a daily basis.

“When you see the absolute misery of these people you wonder how they can survive,” said Randy Malott, a former USF student who attended the event. “It’s comforting that some Israelis understand that this is a politically despicable event.”

The message of human rights violations, not anti-Semitism, is something that Gugliotti hoped to convey to the attendees.

“It’s not about anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli,” she said. “It’s about human rights issues. What my advocacy is about is human rights.”

Gerald Heidel, chairperson of the Tampa Bay chapter of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, was on-hand to provide a historical context of the conflict. Heidel said he gained more knowledge about the conflict by reading about it.

“(I) became aware that (the) United States was taking a position that was not going to be any good,” he said.

Heidel sees Palestinians as victims in the conflict and works for their benefit.

“I’m not an expert,” he added, “but I can recognize injustice when I see it. When you’re the little ant working against the elephant, it’s very difficult.”

When asked by an audience member what those sympathetic to the Palestinian situation should do, Heidel suggested visiting lawmakers.

“We need to let (our elected representatives) know that there is a segment of the United States society that is not in agreement with U.S. foreign policy (toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

“Otherwise, they think they’re doing things okay. You have to write to the State Department. You have to write to the President of the United States. You have to write to Ariel Sharon,” added.

Newton shared how daily life is made difficult by the occupation.

“Dirt and rubble are used as a baracade,” she said. “The town is a prison.”

Newton showed a picture of a turnstile at the Ramala checkpoint, “one of the most notorious checkpoints in the West Bank,” she said. Newton went on to recall a time when she and Gugliotti went through the turnstile and were held by soldiers in the cramped space as they waited to move through the checkpoint.

“(It can) take hours for Palestinians to cross checkpoints,” she added.

Gugliotti’s portion of the presentation detailed the different public organizations geared toward helping women and children. Women for Life, an organization situated in a rural town in Palestine, is a group of women trying to improve their quality of life by beginning their own business ventures.

“They said, ‘We must first exist as Palestinian women in order to co-exist with Israeli women,'” Gugliotti said, reading a quote from the group that she said had a great impact on her.

By hosting the event they, “Wanted to create a dialogue and (then) be able to delve deeper into specific aspects of the conflict in future events (held on the topic),” Gugliotti said.

“I see future events talking about different aspects of the conflict,” she added. “(I am) planning a film series on (the) conflict (to be held) somewhere in Tampa.”