Rally highlights contrasting views

by Tracy Landers | 4/19/02 5:00am

A rally condemning the recent Israeli offensive in the occupied territories and calling for a separate Palestinian nation attracted a large crowd of supporters, counter-protesters and curious onlookers outside the Collis Center yesterday.

As speakers such as writer and activist Grace Paley and Jewish studies department chair Susannah Heschel spoke out against alleged human rights violations and the leadership of Ariel Sharon, members of the Dartmouth Israel Public Affairs Committee held up signs with such messages as "Arafat is a terrorist" and "PLO = Al Qaeda."

Meanwhile, signs paraded by rally supporters proclaimed, "Sharon is a war criminal" and "Protest any limit to humanitarian aid in the occupied areas."

Although rally organizers attempted to present a unified front that was both "pro-Palestinian" and "pro-Israeli," the use of such disparate slogans and the outbreak of heated arguments afterward demonstrated the divides between some present.

Event organizer Shilyh Warren '98, though, felt the protest achieved all of her goals, which she said included informing the public and avoiding "us versus them" rhetoric.

She did express disappointment, however, at DIPAC's method of participation, saying, "The DIPAC illegally planned an event at the same time and place as the official rally."

"It was a mistake on our part, but there was no bad blood. ... At the end of the day we shake hands and walk home," DIPAC vice president Michael Sevi '02 said of his organization's plans.

While dissension simmered in the audience composed of students, faculty and community members, a diverse group of speakers spoke with passion about the oppression, fear, death, injustice and war of the past 19 months in Israel.

"The government of Ariel Sharon is a government of military incompetence, that will cause destruction and moral bankruptcy. Sharon is the shame of the Jewish people," Heschel said. She condemned the Palestinian leader just as harshly saying, "One of the great disasters of his people, Arafat brings corruption and destruction."

Jewish studies Professor Orly Lubin was equally critical of Arafat and Sharon, calling them, "two blind blood-thirsty leaders play[ing] the macho game of who is first at the cost of thousands of human lives."

Lubin, who is herself an Israeli, spoke about the ideological consequences of Israel's human rights violations.

"Israel has been ignoring its own history, forgetting its own past and undermining the very rational of its existence. ...This cancer of human rights violation is killing everything that Israel is supposed to stand for -- justice, democracy, dignity," Lubin said.

When she commented that, "Israel has become one of the major violator of human rights," a student in the crowd yelled out "Lie!" only to be quickly hushed by a Safety and Security officer.

Students speakers were equally passionate about the need for peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

"It is not fair, it is not just, nor is it morally right for the Palestinian people to live without hope, without basic necessities and with the fear and reality of death existing around them each day. It is also not fair for the Israel civilians to live in the fear of death each time they walk to the nearby grocery store or get on a bus to go to their job," Claire Superfine '04 said.

The protest was characterized by a plethora of signs, posters and flags representing different view points. Warren said she had nothing to do with the appearance of large Israeli and Palestinian flags, which crowd members waved behind and in front of the speaker's microphone.

Rally organizer Mohamad Bydon '02 emphasized that the event was not supported by any particular religious or ethnic group, and that both planning committee and speaker list contained a mix of Jewish and Muslim students.

"I would never frame this conflict in terms of religious divisions because I don't see it that way. I frame it in terms of humanitarian issues because that's what is ultimately important," Bydon said.

Hillel President Rebecca Kurzweil '03 said her officially pro-Israel organization was "not invited until afterwards," but also added, "we've enjoyed hearing different opinions." The crowd was peppered with Hillel students as well as Jewish students not affiliated with Hillel.

No active member of Hillel or DIPAC spoke at the rally.

"The [event organizers] didn't want to talk about the issues" that concerned DIPAC members, Sevi said. He said he agreed with the message of human rights but that his organization had a different focus.

Sevi emphasized the corruption of Arafat's leadership, the Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli citizens and Arafat's support of such bombings.

"What about the human rights of the Israeli civilians who are sitting in a pizza place ... who get blown up?" Sevi asked.

As the event dissipated after an hour and a half of cheering, sign waving and impassioned testimonial, heated debates erupted despite rally organizers' efforts to calm individuals.