Israeli-Palestinian conflict evokes discussion of free speech

Taken by Leena Butt

Issue 10 Correction: The Arab Spring is a national movement in the Middle East that began on December 18, 2010. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resulted in five major wars and minor conflicts.

With red duct tape plastered to their mouths, roughly 50 students from the UCR Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization partook in a silent demonstration on Nov. 20.

Taking place around the HUB plaza and the Bell Tower, the organization protested in condemnation of the recent air strikes on the Gaza Strip, located along the border of Israel and Egypt.

Virulent killings on the Gaza Strip temporarily negated a ceasefire agreement between the Gaza-ruled Islamic Palestinian group, Hamas and Zionist Israeli defense forces Nov.14-22.

At the systemwide level, ethnic-religious student organizations have engaged  political activism to create awareness about the violence in the Middle East.

Yet, issues have been raised by students and UC officials alike about the boundaries between free speech and hate language over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UC system.

Six Days After
“The red tape is supposed to signify just the voiceless people of Palestine. They’re not given a voice because the media likes to portray Palestine as…Hamas or terrorists,” stated SJP President Shadi Matar, who expressed the difficulty of creating awareness towards such a distant issue that does not regularly affect student life.

“[The media doesn’t] talk about the actual instability in which most of the people who died in this new wave of violence were civilians….they just refer to the whole region as terrorists,” he said of the marginalization of the occupied Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

By then, over 100 deaths were reported, which largely consisted of Palestinian women and children via missile launches as the basis for the ensuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, the Israeli security forces claimed the missile launches were defensive measures meant to protect the people of Israel against the Hamas movement, due to prior violent encounters which involved military and civilian casualties..

SJP members marched through populated areas, holding signs which called for the UC to financially-disinvest in corporations that supported Israel.

“Demonstration took six days after the Gaza airstrike…so the idea was to make a statement without being disruptive to the campus environment,” said SJP Fundraising Coordinator and Executive Board Member Amal Adi, in response to the silent activism where many wore colors of the Palestinian flag. “I really want people to be able to examine both sides and come to…like a personal decision on the conflict themselves…it facilitates the environment in our university where everyone becomes well-educated and well-versed on the Israel-Palestine conflict…,” she said.

The Ripple Effect
Echoing similar sentiments across the UC system, UCR is not the only campus to ignite a flicker of political activism recently, especially among Arab and Muslim groups.

Nearly 100 students, consisting of the Students for Justice in Palestine and Bruins in Israel, gathered on the campus of UCLA on Nov.15 to protest the military shellings on the Gaza Strip. .

Students on other campuses such as UC Irvine took on other more intense political stances before the onset of the incurring violence. Back in early October, the UCI student government unanimously passed an apartheid disinvestment resolution,  which requested the UC “divest from companies that profit from the apartheid and occupation in Palestine by the Israeli government.”

Over the years, reactionary responses to a hostile Middle East have also bred what some interpret as anti-semitic behavior and borderline discrimination on many UC campuses.

In mid-March, an unknown suspect alarmed the UCR community by scrawling the word “terrorist” onto the flag displayed outside of the Jewish student organization Hillel.

Just weeks before that incident, several members of a different audience heckled an Israeli soldier’s speech about the Arab-Israeli conflict during a UC Davis conference.

On Oct. 3, UC Berkeley faced its own investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly fostering an anti-semitic climate. Early lawsuits were evoked by Jewish students who felt that their civil rights were infringed upon by pro-Palestinian groups who would set up mock checkout points during the annual Israeli Apartheid Week in early February.

Impacts on UC student life
According to findings in July by UC President Mark Yudof’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, “Jewish, Muslim and Arab students find the University of California a safe and welcoming place. But their experiences are less positive when disputes over geopolitics in the Middle East and anti-Islamic sentiment fueled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks spills onto campus.”

On Aug. 30, the California State Assembly passed HR 35, a nonbinding resolution that advised colleges and universities to address suppressions of Jewish free speech, specifically by defining the term “anti-Semitism.”

Just 16 days later, ensuing outcry arose from the UC Student Association, which passed its own resolution in contention to HR 35, which they claim “(suppresses) legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism.” UC officials have also expressed opposition to the House bill for similar possibilities of an infringement on civil liberties.

Many of these resolutions placed freedom of speech on Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the forefront of discussion, where such a broad definition for “anti-Semitism,” may infringe upon the right to protest among other ethnic-religious orientations.

Releasing a “Response to Protest on UC Campuses” report on Sept. 28, UC officials reaffirmed the university’s commitment to nurturing free speech and debate on campus within a diverse and cultural learning environment.

Background

  • The Gaza strip has the highest population density in the world, at ~12,300 people per square mile, according to the World Factbook of the CIA.
  • Israel and Palestine have been at war since the 1920s, which resulted in at least five major wars and minor conflicts.
  • Hamas is a Palestinian-Islamist militant movement that governs the Gaza strip, but does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. The United States, European Union and Israel view Hamas as a terrorist group.
  • Brokering a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine became a temporary, yet more mindful goal, especially with the assistance of Egypt on Nov. 22, who encouraged grounds for stability and compromise.
Facebook Comments