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Students donate, protest in response to conflict between Israel and Palestine

Student groups hope to counter misconceptions surrounding the conflict and help students speak in a more literate manner about the realities of the situation

<p>Early Friday morning, the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine reached a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt, but students plan to continue their activism.</p>

Early Friday morning, the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine reached a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt, but students plan to continue their activism.

Amid the 11-day streak of violence between Israel and Palestine near the Gaza Strip, University students and organizations spoke out, aiming to counter misconceptions around the conflict and aid those impacted.

As of May 11, Israeli and Palestinian representatives agreed to a ceasefire. Students, however, plan to continue their activism.

Throughout the course of the violence, Palestinian officials reported more than 243 people were killed by Israeli attacks, 66 of whom were children. Israeli officials reported 12 deaths, including two children, due to rockets launched into the country by Hamas forces. Formed in 1987, Hamas is a Palestinian militant group with significant power in Gaza and the West Bank regions of Palestine — it has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 1997. The “quiet for quiet” ceasefire has been held for 10 days so far, though the agreement hinges on the understanding that if either side breaks the ceasefire, the other will respond.

University student organizations have been rallying support for both groups involved in the conflict, hoping to counter misconceptions regarding the violence while raising funds for organizations aligned with their beliefs.

Ahmad Hasanian, former Arab Student Organization president of the and Class of 2021 alumnus, said his advocacy has one mission — “to share the truth about what is happening to the Palestinian people.” 

“My advocacy centers on the reality of Palestinian suffering and oppression at the hands of the state of Israel, which has historically been absent from the mainstream media narrative,” Hasanian said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I hope that by shedding light on the injustice that Palestinians suffer every single day, we can hold Israel accountable for their human rights violations and war crimes and ultimately liberate Palestine from occupation.”

On May 11, the Arab Student Organization painted a pro-Palestine message on Beta Bridge to “help spread awareness about the forced evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and other ongoing human rights violations, which have been funded by the U.S. for decades.” The organization additionally raised over $1,000 through a social media campaign, with all proceeds going to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization dedicated to providing free medical care to children in the Middle East who could not receive the same care locally.

However, within 24 hours, the group’s message was painted over by another group with the words “Peace for Israel.” ASO then attempted to repaint its original message, but this time, Hasanian said that another group vandalized the bridge while the group were physically there, painting. To Hasanian, this reflected that while the organization’s message has made an impact, it has not been universally well-received.

“If we can’t even paint a message advocating for basic human rights without being silenced, then how can students feel safe enough to continue to advocate for the liberation of Palestine?” Hasanian said. 

On May 18, the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine shared a letter in support of “Palestinians in the fight for liberation and in their struggle against settler colonialism.” So far, 38 student organizations — including the Arab Student Organization, Minority Rights Coalition and Muslim Student Organization — have signed on in support. Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine’s chapter at the University aims to disseminate information both about the conflict and Palestinian culture in general.

The letter demanded an end to the Israeli occupation and voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to put pressure on Israel though non-violent economic means with the aim of forcing its withdrawal from occupied territories and the removal of the separation barrier at the West Bank. The BDS movement — run by a Palestinian-led “BDS National Committee” — is joined by unions, NGOs and university groups throughout the world. It gained support from notable global leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and activist Angela Davis.

On May 20, SPJP organized a protest for the liberation of the Palestinian people. Hundreds of people attended the protest, which moved from the George Rogers Clark Statue to the Rotunda, and called for the immediate curbing of the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund the Israeli government. In 2016, the Obama administration pledged over $38 billion over 10 years to Israel in military assistance, including weapons and aircraft, amounting to $3.8 billion in support every year from 2019 to 2029.

Hoos for Israel also released a statement on May 14 acknowledging the organization’s hope for a prompt de-escalation of violence.

“Over the last several years we have pursued this mission [to affirm Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish State] through events like our annual fundraisers,” said Seth Snyder, President of Hoos for Israel and fourth-year College student, in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “In response to the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we have been primarily concerned with countering dangerous misconceptions and false narratives surrounding Israel and the conflict at large.”

Many of these common misconceptions — such as the belief that the Israel/Palestine conflict has been fought for centuries or that Israel is explicitly seeking Palestinian destruction— have existed for years. A lot of these narratives are disseminated on social media, where short, basic infographics and cartoons spread quickly but may be one-sided, incorrect or oversimplified.

“This conflict cannot be summed up in an infographic, and we urge members of the community to inform themselves about the history and complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict before sharing false narratives that do more harm than good,” the statement read. 

The statement acknowledged that, as with any other nation-state, criticisms of Israel are accepted but warns that certain critiques can be antisemitic if they apply different standards to Israel than to other countries. 

“Under the [International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance] definition [of antisemitism], criticism of Israel under the same standards held to any other country cannot be considered antisemitic,” the statement read. “However, attacks leveled against Israel that hold the state to a different standard based on its Jewish identity are manifestations of antisemitism.”

According to the statement, antisemitic critiques include “denying Israel the right to self-defense against the thousands of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas” and “denying the Jewish State’s legitimate ties to the land and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination,” known as Zionism. 

History Prof. James Loeffler and Jewish History Chair Jay Berkowitz teach a course titled “Israel/Palestine 1948” for students interested in learning about the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 that spurred the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

The resolution partitioned the Palestinian region into Arab and Jewish states and attempted to declare the city of Jerusalem as its own separate entity. Violence followed almost immediately between the Jewish community — who had been fighting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, which they viewed as their ancestral homeland — and Arab residents, who had long resided in Palestine and viewed the land as belonging to their people. 

The course centers contexts such as decolonization in the Middle Eastern region and ultimately aims to explore the outcomes of Jewish independence and Palestinian dispossession. Reflecting on students’ willingness to engage with course themes, Loeffler noted that students are eager for core knowledge that they can use to inform their own beliefs about the situation. 

“[Students] do not want to be told what to think — they want to learn key facts and understand how those facts are used to form competing narratives,” Loeffler said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Student activists on all sides of the issue have told me that they value the chance to engage in critical study in the classroom to understand the sources of competing points of view, even as they hold fast to their ethical and political commitments.”

In addition, courses outside of Loeffler’s HIME 2012 course will be offered in the fall, focused specifically around the conflict and the history of the region.

“We have recently hired a terrific new professor of Israel Studies who, beginning this fall, will teach a number of courses about Israel/Palestine as well as offering public programs for students and others to engage thoughtfully with the conflict,” Loeffler said.

Outside of curricular studies, student organizations continue to consider global contexts.

Hasanian wrote that “ASO is open to students from all different backgrounds, not just Arabs — all are welcome and encouraged to join.” Similarly, Snyder mentioned that “any student interested in learning more about Israel should get involved with Hoos for Israel next semester.”

Hasanian and Snyder agree that navigating the conflict is difficult for students, creating challenges to engaging in productive dialogue. 

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply complex and no infographic on Instagram can provide people with the depth of information they need to make informed judgments and engage in productive dialogue,” Snyder said.

Hasanian noted that he thinks many people are worried about engaging in the topic because they risk upsetting or offending people they know, though he sees hope in recent activism on the issue. 

“I’m optimistic because I have noticed that once people are made aware of the scale of human rights violations and the level of injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians, they feel more comfortable speaking up and engaging,” Hasanian said.

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