Some people say the Palestinian question deserves a more prominent place among international issues. So activists made themselves visible on the UC Berkeley campus Thursday to shed some light.
Few of the people walking by could fail to notice the students wearing kuffiyehs, shouting “Free, free Palestine,” passing out leaflets, and flying the Palestinian flag along the walkway to Sather Gate.
In part, the demonstration organized by Students for Justice in Palestine was made even more visible, because of a very vocal counter rally organized by the Israel Action Committee.
Randy Barnes, 29, was passing out leaflets saying, “Israel wants peace. We have no partner.”
“We’re out here because we want to let the campus know there are two sides,” said Barnes. “The SJP is not pro-peace. They’re anti-Israel.”
The noon event quickly turned into a heated heckling match. In one exchange, the students of SJP chanted, Vietnam-style: “Ariel Sharon, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?”
“We don’t want you anyway!” answered Micki Weinberg, 17, who was holding an Israeli flag as part of the IAC rally.
Weinberg was later involved in several of the heated shouting matches between the two sides. Near the end of the event, he tried to take the Palestinian flag down from Sather Gate, saying that it was in violation of school rules.
If one objective was visibility, another was intended to be mutual understanding. SJP had planned the event in conjunction with other universities in the area to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed by the United Nations on Nov. 29 of each year.
“We want people to understand that Palestinians are not about a cult of violence. It’s about ordinary people leading human lives,” said Snehal Shingavi, 26, a member of SJP. “We’re hoping this can be the birth of national student movement.”
The group also said the event was especially timely because of the Amnesty International report claiming the weekly toll of Palestinians killed has doubled since the attacks on the World Trade Center.
It was not only students who held posters in front of the gates. Penny Rosenwasser, 52, an Oakland resident, said she came as a Jew who supported the Palestinian cause for a safe and secure homeland.
“The Israeli government doesn’t speak in my name and I’m only one of many Jews who thinks like this,” said Rosenwasser, who works with the Coalition of Jews for Justice and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.
Berkeley resident Joseph Anderson, 36, said he came to end what he calls the “racist ideology” of Zionism. “African American intellectuals - and I guess I would consider myself one - are very sensitive to issues of double standards wherever they occur in the world,” said Anderson. “Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu directly compared Israel to a sate of apartheid.”
Both sides were calling for dialogue, but there was more diatribe than discussion in the two-hour rally.
“There are 19 Arab nations and only one Jewish one,” said Weinberg. “These people only want to kick the Jews out.” He said that SJP rejected several offers from IAC for a group-to-group dialogue and said several individuals had made anti-Semitic statements during this demonstration.
Shingavi said his group certainly is not anti-Semitic. Indeed, they had participated in a rally against anti-Semitism five weeks ago that was sponsored by several Jewish groups on campus. “The pro-Israel group was antagonistic,” said Shingavi. “They called me a suicide bomber and a terrorist.”
Robin Mihilner, a senior, was shocked at seeing such a boisterous a protest. “This is very confrontational.” said Mohilner. “It’s kind of scary.” Although, as a Jewish student, she says she does not agree with a lot of the statements issued by SJP. “I guess everyone has a right to be heard.”
Most students walked by without picking up leaflets from either side, though some did say they might now look for more information on the internet.
Senior Kirk Bardin wasn’t impressed with the demonstrators.
“This turns me off,” he said. “I might listen more if someone came at me with intelligent comments rather than chanting at me for 20 minutes.”
David Benoun, a junior, said that the demonstration “oversimplified” the issue. “It makes you think you’re on one side or the other, when it’s a complex situation,” he said.
“Nothing positive will come out of this,” said Mohilner. “It won’t bring the kind of change we need.” As she waved to two of her Muslim friends in the protest line, she said she thought Jewish and Arab people needed to start a long-term series of individual conversations where they can get to know each other instead of shouting at each other across protest lines.
But both groups know a couple of hours is not going to solve problems that even the Nobel-prize work has yet to settle. As part of their on-going events, SJP had planned a teach-in Thursday evening. Members of the IAC said they will continue to give out fliers every day at Sproul Plaza.