Al-Nur, Hillel hold Mid-East vigil

by Julia Levy | 10/26/00 5:00am

Although Muslim and Jewish students took a stand for peace last night on the Green, even at Dartmouth that peace rests on rocky footing over an issue that has tensions running high on an international level.

While the Hillel and Al-Nur leaders promoted Middle East peace in their joint candlelight vigil on the Green, pro-Palestinian pamphlets circulated through the crowd and others acknowledged the peace the two parties envision is probably not the same one.

Hillel President Jason Spitalnick '02 acknowledged that not all of the individual members of Hillel agree with all of the individual members of Al-Nur.

However, he said even if students disagree on nine out of 10 issues, "If we can find some commonality on the 10th, we should be taking advantage of that common ground."

A crowd of about 100 students and community members gathered outside Rollins Chapel yesterday evening where leaders passed out candles.

Following a brief talk by Spitalnick, the group walked along the Green and to its center, where Spitalnick read a short prayer to the large circle that surrounded him, followed by a similarly short prayer by Al-Nur President Yousuf Haque '02.

Al-Nur and Hillel, the Muslim and Jewish students associations each selected their prayers -- which were in English -- beforehand, and passed them by the other side for approval. "The standard we used was whether the other side would be just as happy saying the prayer," Spitalnick said.

A 20-second moment of silence followed the prayers. The group then moved on to the Tucker foundation, where the vigil concluded.

Spitalnik called the vigil "100 percent apolitical" and indicated that the common ground for Hillel and Al-Nur is the fact that "both Hillel and Al-Nur want to see the violence stop and want to see peace."

Haque agreed with Spitalnick: "It's to show that we are committed to a just peace for all Israelis and Palestinians."

However, some students thought last night's vigil was not productive. Ariel Farber '03 sent a BlitzMail message to "all the people I was aware of who were potentially involved in the vigil" on Tuesday night.

"Maybe, before you go to the joint Al-Nur Hillel vigil for peace tomorrow you should go read the information posted on the Al-Nur bulletin," her message read in part. "I think we should all know how everyone else feels before we hold a rally for an undefined concept that we are not willing to discuss with one another."

Ali Rashid '01, who posts Al-Nur's bulletins, said he has "been trying to post bulletins about what's going on" to inform readers about the other side of the issue that he said the Western media does not capture.

"There's some terrible things happening to Palestinian people," he said, explaining that the Israeli soldiers have been "murdering" Palestinians, but the press focuses only on the Israelis who die.

One bulletin says, "These 21 children died horrible deaths at the hands of an army mistakenly labeled, Israeli DEFENSE Forces. Some of these children were ten and some were twelve. Some, were murdered by the settlers others by the army. They were hit with live ammunition, mushrooming dum-dum bullets, 12.7 mm bullets and some were hit with missile fragments. Some were cornered and gunned down, like 12 year-old Muhammad and Israeli snipers shot some while they watched from the sidelines."

As with much of the news coming from the region now, many contend that this does not tell the whole story.

"I didn't want people to go to a rally when they believed it meant one thing while other people there felt it stood for something else," Farber told The Dartmouth yesterday. "Ignoring the issues and finding common ground will not solve any problem."

Spitalnick acknowledged that the Muslim students and the Jewish students who attended the vigil last night may not have shared the same conception of a peace in the Middle East. When he closes his eyes and imagines peace, Spitalnick said that it may be a different peace from what Haque imagines. But he said the vigil was worthwhile nonetheless.

Rabbi Edward Boraz commented, "The purpose of the vigil is to offer what is most important to both Jews and Muslims, and that is to offer our prayers for peace and to express the hope that the violence will stop, and that both parties will commit themselves to finding a way to live in peace together."

He called the Dartmouth community's cooperation to hold an event like last night's vigil "unique," especially "at a time when Jews and Muslims appear to be pulling apart."

In general, the words passing from Muslim students to Jewish students have been more contentious on other college campuses around the country such as Harvard's and Berkeley's, where there have been divided rallies as the problems in Israel have escalated.

"There is a fragmenting of relations between Jewish students and Muslim students over the current Middle East crisis," Boraz said.

Haque said a few weeks ago, Al-Nur was originally planning to hold the vigil alone, but after he and Spitalnick communicated, the two organizations decided to work together on the endeavor.

"It's been a challenge," Haque said. "I've had to sort out logistics on our side and communicate with Hillel ... It's worked because both of us are committed to peace."

Rashid said, "I think what tonight's vigil can do is show that there are people committed to peace here in the United States."

Farber disagreed that the vigil would serve a real purpose.

"I think there are a lot of much more active ways to go about solving the problem," she said. "Symbolic gesture should be a gesture of something. You should clarify what the symbolism is behind the gesture."

Farber said she has attended all of the political conversations about the Middle East, including the one sponsored by the Dartmouth Alliance for Middle East Awareness last night in Collis Center.

"If you're going to do something, do something proactive," she said.

Michael Sevi '02 started DAMEA this term because up until now there has been no on-campus group focusing on the Middle East, he explained. Approximately 40 students attended its first meeting last night.

Sevi compiled packets of a map-based history of the region before the meeting, and planned to discuss the history leading up to the current conflicts at the meeting. Sevi spent 10 weeks living in Israel during high school and worked at a pro-Israel lobby in Washington D.C. during the summer.

DAMEA's founding board is currently a mixture of Jewish students and Christian students. The organizers of DAMEA welcome Muslim student involvement and Sevi said they hope to find a Muslim student who can add his or her input to the group's leadership.

"If other kids on other campuses could do what we're doing here, it would be great," he said.