Gaza conflict divides KSU students

Bobby Weitzner, graduate sociology major and president of Golden Flashes for Israel, at the demonstration on Nov. 20. Photo by Jacob Byk.

Madeleine Winer

Middle Eastern conflict hit home last week as students held demonstrations at Kent State to educate the campus community about continuous fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Students for Justice in Palestine and the Golden Flashes for Israel demonstrated within 400 feet of each other last Tuesday on the Esplanade. The groups passed out fliers telling students about the conflict and its history.

The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr declared a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the elected authority of Gaza. Despite some tension, that agreement so far has held.

The agreement came eight days after fighting had erupted in the region after Israel assassinated the head of Hamas’ military wing. Israel claims the aggression as self-defense against years of rockets launched by Hamas.

The Students for Justice in Palestine stood in Risman Plaza from 9 a.m. to approximately 4 p.m. last Tuesday. The Golden Flashes for Israel, supported by Hillel at Kent State and the College Democrats and Republicans, set up tables in front of the MAC Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The student political groups joined the cause after they saw that the Obama administration and state representatives and senators throughout the country supported Israel’s right to defend itself, said Jake Green, president of the College Democrats.

“Not only are we following what our party does, but we are following what is right,” said Green, a Jewish sophomore public relations major. “I see our president, our country and our military doing everything that we’ve promised to back Israel with full support. If anything big breaks out there, it affects us.”

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

After WWII, The United Nations declared that the British-occupied territory would be divided into two independent countries: Israel and Palestine. Arab leaders rejected this declaration. In the years since, there have been numerous military conflicts about the disputed territory.

Israeli and Palestinian militant groups have been engaged in conflict over Gaza, which Israel occupied from the Six-Day War in 1967 until 2005. Gaza is under the control of Hamas, but Israel still maintains extremely tight restrictions on trade in and out of Gaza

What is it like in the Gaza Strip?

Nidaa Awaja, a graduate student studying biology, is from the Gaza Strip and said she “hasn’t been able to function” for about a week worrying about her family’s safety in Gaza City.

Awaja, who was born in the U.K., came to Kent with her husband and two children. From posts she has seen on Facebook to images displayed on TV, she knows that if her, her husband and children were in Gaza, they wouldn’t be safe.

“Whenever I see the pictures of children being killed, I just imagine that they could have been one of my kids,” Awaja said. “Seeing the pictures of children on the news in the hospitals … they are burnt and injured. There is just no explanation. Why do they have to live with this?”

Awaja said one way she knows her family is alive is by making sure they are updating online posts. She said many of her family’s friends have lost their lives as a result of the fighting, and people in Gaza have become accustomed to the idea of death.

“The idea that you can die and anyone in your family can die at any moment, you prepare yourself for that,” she said. “It’s not that people aren’t afraid or not sad. It’s something people expect everyday to happen.”

Nidal Atallah, a graduate student in geology and Palestinian from Jerusalem, said a cease-fire agreement would not resolve the problem in the Middle East.

“To be realistic, knowing Israel and knowing the situation, the only potential for a peace agreement or resolution to happen between two parties is when we have a transparent and unbiased mediator,” Atallah said. “The U.S. has been the absolute opposite.”

Robert Weitzner, president of the Golden Flashes for Israel, said a cease-fire agreement is not enough to stop the fighting because terrorist groups still exist in Gaza and want the land Israel occupies.

“There are other groups like the Islamist Jihad in the Gaza strip,” he said. “Hamas runs the Gaza strip, but they don’t tell the other terror groups to stop. When you add extremist elements that want the other side eliminated, just completely dead, as the Palestinian Hamas terror group has stated numerous times, they want to see the Jews pushed from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Ghassan Rafeedie, an anthropology graduate student, said Hamas is “filling the political and military void” in Gaza, a land whose population is trying to take back their homeland of Palestine.

“I hate what they’re doing and what they’ve done to us,” said Rafeedie about Hamas occupying Gaza. “But Israel put them in a situation where they’re the only thing defending Gaza right now.”

Weitzner, senior sociology major, said Israel wants to neutralize the threat from Hamas because they use terrorist tactics like suicide bombings, guerrilla warfare and human shields.

“My opinion is that Israel is trying to take out this terrorist infrastructure with as little damage as possible to innocent Palestinians,” Weitzner said. “Israel is unhappy with the fact that for the past 12 years, almost 13,000 rockets have landed in Israeli towns hurting civilians.”

Atallah said Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas with 1.5 million refugees and has been besieged by Hamas, which operates in this populated area. He said that Israel is finding a way to justify the killing of children.

“It’s different than you targeting a home and killing 12 people and saying, you know, we think that was a terrorist target,” Atallah said. “You can’t just kill 4 children. You can’t dehumanize, so far, 29 children and say that there is a balanced equation.”

Weitzner, an Emerson Fellow for Israel advocacy group Stand With Us, said Israel values all lives involved and has sent trucks into Gaza offering humanitarian aid.

“During this conflict, Israel gave 124 trucks of humanitarian aid to Gaza,” he said. “Israel will actually drop leaflets and send out texts in Arabic saying look we’re going to take out this rocket patch, please vacate the area. Israel is concerned about the loss of life. A lot of times, they’re told don’t leave, by Hamas.”

Both groups said that their respective sides were not being portrayed in the American media accurately.

Atallah said he thinks the US media is misinforming the American public by portraying the conflict as being balanced between two countries.

“It’s an oppressive regime against a civilian population,” he said. “They [the media] soften Israeli crimes, that’s for sure. They’re deliberately choosing what facts to show. They’re minimizing Israel’s crimes against humanity and maximizing any activity against Palestinian groups.”

Weitzner said both conventional and social media have been unfairly negative toward Israel, as it strives for peace in the region.

“On CNN, there was a picture of destruction saying Israel caused this in the war versus Hamas when it was really from Syria,” he said. “Israelis just want peace. The vast majority of Israelis want peace, just as much of the Palestinian public, the ones that are not indoctrinated with the incitement [by Hamas].”

Evan Gildenblatt, executive director of Undergraduate Student Government, said he feels it is unfortunate that representatives of the Palestinian people have failed them with such negative attitudes.

“There are two peoples who are in love with one land; thus, there is the ultimate need for a two-state solution,” Gildenblatt said. “We all need to take a step back, give each other mutual respect, and figure out where we can make meaningful compromises for a lasting peace.”

Gildenblatt said finding the things that both sides have in common is a crucial first step to being able to respect one another.

Timeline of conflicts in Gaza

June 1967: Israel seizes the Gaza Strip from Egypt during The Six-Day War.

September 2005: Israel withdraws its troops and 8,500 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Jan 26, 2006: Hamas wins a large majority in the Palestinian Parliament, against the more moderate party Fatah.

June 2007: Hamas seizes control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah, a political and military organization of Arab Palestinians. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by governments including Israel, the US and Australia.

2007-2012: Despite a truce in 2008, Hamas and Israel engage in attacks, leaving Gazans and Israelis killed and injured on both sides.

November 14: The head of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed al-Jaabari, was killed by Israeli rocket fire in a targeted attack, sparking renewed fighting between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza strip.

Wednesday: A cease-fire, which called for “complete and total cessation of all hostile activity,” is announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr in a joint news conference in Cairo.

Sources: CNN, World News Australia

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].