UF students organize Palestine Awareness Week
Joe Courter
November/December 2002

October 21 - 25 marked the first Palestine Awareness Week on the University of Florida campus. Coordinated by Islam on Campus and the recently-formed Palestinian rights group Nakba '48, it included four days of daytime events and evening programs. All served to make more visible and real the intolerable conditions under which the Palestinian people are living because of the Israeli occupation of their land, and the need for real changes by Israel in addressing the apartheid-like conditions being imposed on the residents of Palestine. As on many other campuses around the country, Palestinian Awareness Week caused controversy on the UF campus, with a group called Gators for Israel opposing the events.

On the opening day, Nakba '48 set up a table with information about the week's activities. Massing in the center of the plaza 50 feet away were around 150 blue-shirted Gators for Israel, singing songs and chanting pro-Israel chants. The odd feeling was that it was a protest against awareness itself, with the irony being that the protest actually drew attention to the existence of Palestinian Awareness Week, albeit soaking up a lot of coverage of the events. This was especially true of the opening night speech by Dr. Hussein Ibish, who was heard by around 80 people that evening but received no media coverage. It's also worth noting that very few of the Gators for Israel sympathizers attended his talk.

Dr. Ibish is the Communications Director for the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times. He laid out the situation in stark terms, eliminating the historical and religious trappings that he said serve only to confuse and mystify the discussion. Ibish said that the Israel-Palestine problem is a political conflict and must be seen as such, as opposed to a religious conflict, because religious conflicts are "intractable and irrational" by their nature. In short-an untenable, unsustainable situation of oppression exists with the occupation of Palestinian land and repression of the 3.6 million Palestinians. The huge amount of military aid and weaponry from the US perpetuates the occupation and complicates any move toward a solution, despite recent US rhetoric favoring a two-state solution.

Ibish said that in this situation the occupation must be seen as the key. There are 3.6 million people living stateless, in deprived conditions, crowded into small areas, existing under oppression and with little opportunity to change the situation. This is the hopeless situation that gives rise to the terrorism-one group dominating and repressing another to the degree the Palestinians have endured.

As to resolution of the conflict, Ibish said there are only 3 possibilities. The first two are prospects for peace, the third is a prospect for catastrophe. The first is the two-state solution, which is already written out in the UN resolution 242. This would require Israel to pull out from the occupied territories. Yet the current Israeli government opposes this, and it seems unlikely. The second option is the single state, which is supported by the Palestinians, but there is very little support for this in Israel. So it really comes down to Israel, because the third option would be the horror of ethnic cleansing, whereby the "problem" of the Palestinians woud be reduced or removed by Israel under one circumstance or other. Unbelievable as it sounds, this notion does have support of a small but significant minority in Israel-15% according to Ibish.

On October 23, Adam Shapiro, a member of the International Solidarity Movement (www.palsolidarity.org) described his experiences as an American doing support work in the occupied territories. His work included helping provide food and medical supplies, monitoring checkpoints, and most recently, assisting with the olive harvest-trying to keep Israeli military and settlers from firing on and harassing Palestinian farmers whose agricultural efforts are severely restricted both by water restrictions and land confiscation.

One strong point Shapiro made to the more than 300 people in attendance was that the vast majority on both sides of the conflict want peace and security, but a small minority, representing people from both Israel and Palestine--and largely for their own self-interest--want the conflict to continue. These are the two sides to this issue: the "bloody handshake and dance of violence" between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Sharon and the conservatives of Israel working "together" to continually destroy negotiations, against the majority of Israelis and Palestinians who want peace and security, and who, if given the chance, could work things out.

That the Israelis (and their enabling sponsor, the USA) control the solution is maybe why there was so much controversy over Palestinian Awareness Week. That first day, when 150 "Gators for Israel" protested the information table set up by Nakba '48, spoke volumes-the protest seemed to be speaking against awareness itself, even though Americans need to know more about the situation. Though the protest overshadowed some of the issues and events, it also increased awareness of the week's activities.

Tapes of both Adam Shapiro and Hussein Ibish talks are available for checkout at the Civic Media Center.

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