February 10, 2009

Protest Gone Wrong: Gaza Display Ruined

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Less than half a day after members of Cornell community peppered the Arts Quad with flags and signs protesting the war in Gaza, those same signs lay in a heap inside the Green Dragon Café. Around 2 p.m., as the 1,300 black flags — signifying each Palestinian and Israeli who died in the attacks — blew in the February breeze, the accompanying signs were destroyed, stolen and discarded.
The signs, which contained quotes from Amnesty International and the United Nations, were meant to inform students about the attacks in Gaza. The exhibit coincided with a fundraiser organized by the Islamic Alliance for Justice, a group that seeks to raise awareness of local and global current events while giving voice to the Muslim community. The IAJ distributed quartercards to raise funds for Mercy Corp, an international humanitarian aid organization.[img_assist|nid=34918|title=Signs of protest|desc=Black flags and explanatory signs denouncing the violence in Gaza line the pathway on the Arts Quad yesterday morning. The signs were later destroyed.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
“There’s not much dialogue on campus,” said Khullat Munir ‘09, outgoing president of the IAJ and one of the organizers of the Arts Quad display. “We wanted to get out awareness.”
Tara Malik ’10, current president of the IAJ and an organizer of the display, added that the protest was meant to spur debate about the issues surrounding the Gaza conflict.
Meda Simaika ’09, an acquaintance of members of the IAJ, saw multiple perpetrators removing the signs from the ground outside Olin Library. She urged them stop as they dismantled the display, stomped on the signs and ripped them.
“There was a lot of physical aggression and personal angst,” she said. “It was very aggressive … these people were so against the truth, so closed-minded. We were very disheartened.”
Cornell Police arrived once the signs had been ripped out of the ground, but were unable to apprehend anyone involved with their removal. Kathy Zoner, deputy police chief, said that there is an active investigation into who removed the signs. She was unable to disclose any details of the case but encouraged anyone with information to contact the police.
Anyone charged in connection with the signs’ removal would face disorderly conduct, or possibly criminal charges, she said. If the perpetrator were a student, he or she would likely be sent to the Judicial Administrator. Otherwise, the suspect would be sentenced through the city court.
The Cornell Israel Public Affairs Com­mittee, along with Hillel, has been meeting with the IAJ and the Cornell Muslim Educational and Cultural Associ­ation on a biweekly basis since the fall, before the conflict began. Shai Akabas ’09, president of CIPAC, said that the groups have a very good relationship. Nonetheless, he was surprised when he saw the display this morning.
In a statement on behalf of CIPAC, Akabas said, “While we strongly condemn commemorating the deaths of Hamas terrorists that this exhibit represents, we equally believe vandalizing the IAJ’s display goes against every individual’s right to freedom of expression, a right that CIPAC firmly believes in.”
Akabas added, “We’re discussing what the response is going to be, but we haven’t officially planned anything yet.”
Jacob Shapiro ’10, president of Cornell Hillel executive board, similarly felt blindsided by the display when he saw it on the Arts Quad this morning.
“I’m willing to say that I thought it was a little bit sad,” Shapiro said. “This conflict in particular has two sides, and the exhibit does not respect both of those sides. As someone who works with these groups I would have appreciated a heads up.”
Shapiro expressed that while he believes the destruction of the exhibit was wrong, he understands how such a display would conjure up strong feelings. He hopes that Hillel and IAJ can continue to interact on a friendly basis.
This is the second time in less than four months that the University has been embroiled in controversy after protest signs were removed from public areas. In October, a Cornell employee removed pro-life advocacy signs placed in the engineering quad by the Cornell Coalition for Life, citing an unwritten rule prohibiting the signs. The signs were later returned.
Munir maintains that the IAJ had approval to place the signs on the Arts Quad. The demonstration was co-sponsored by Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Michelle Moody Adams, the Alice Cook House and a number of professors.
“We [financially] support activities that promote constructive debate regarding contemporary issues of all sorts,” Hubbell said. “We hope that the result will be a constructive one. Sometimes these things are controversial.”
However, Hubbell did not know of any other recent events aimed to provoke discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This protest comes a week after President David Skorton wrote a column in The Sun encouraging an “open and active debate” about the conflict in Gaza in which he touted higher education as a forum for discussion and reconciliation.
This protest stands out from what has been a largely silent response to Israel’s actions in Gaza from American college students. While students at 16 universities in England staged protests of Israel’s actions in Gaza in late January, according to The Guardian, fewer protests at American universities have made the news.
Though the display may be bucking the trend in students’ responses to the events in Gaza, Malik expressed frustration at the events that she believed limited its effectiveness.
These people “can protest any way they want, but vandalism isn’t necessary,” she said.
But Simaika pointed out that the destruction of the display may have increased awareness after all.
“Their actions spoke louder than words could,” she said. “They enforced our point even better.”

  • Anonymous

    Clearly, everyone who has posted so far is VERY invested in the issue. As a once Israel supporter, I would have to say that this most recent conflict was a horrific breach of humanitarian interest and that this display could have been much much more poignant. Simple, unmarked black flags signifying BOTH Israeli and Palestinian deaths was an appropriate choice. If the group chose to post graphic photographs of victims (if we are to compare this demonstration to the pro-life one described in the article), I would probably be just as appalled.

    As for the validity of the quotes chosen for the posters, yes they are taken out of context and yes, they tell one side of the story. However, not every portrayal of the events is going to be unbiased and in comparison to pro-Israel demonstrations held in the past here at CU, this was not nearly as pointed.

    Also, if you are going to nitpick about details, I would reconsider throwing around hyper-politisized terms such as “terrorist.” What makes someone a “terrorist?” What sort of positioning does the person labeling the unfamiliar as “terrorist” say about the labeler? When I listen to M.I.A. am I guilty of supporting terrorism? Or does that not matter because the Tamil Tigers aren’t located near American oil interests?

    I would think Cornellians would be able to stand back and view things a little more critically.

  • If anyone is interested in learning more, specifically through the first hand accounts of one of our own professors, please feel free to read / take part in discussion here:

    http://cornellreview.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/black-flags-bring-dark-memories-for-cornell-physics-professor/

    sorry to shamelessly plug, but it’s relevant

  • Anonymous

    Two Possibilities:

    1) the same people who would honor animals who murder women and children only to then hide in school yards are the same people who took down this deplorable display.

    2) someone had the courage to destroy this deplorable display of antisemitism.

    Either way, this disgusting display is gone. And at the end of the day, I think that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t have the propaganda of these murdering thugs on our campus.

  • In a statement on behalf of CIPAC, Akabas said, “While we strongly condemn commemorating the deaths of Hamas terrorists that this exhibit represents, we equally believe vandalizing the IAJ’s display goes against every individual’s right to freedom of expression, a right that CIPAC firmly believes in.”

    I cannot believe the audacity of CIPAC’s lie. Well yes, I can believe it. Go figure, the statements were from Amnesty International and the U.N.. and chosen to underscore the humanitarian tragedy in an apolitical way. But as is clearly evident, when it comes to Israel and Palestine, that is not possible. So, do we all cower and allow that backlash usher in a wave of self-censorship?

  • Anonymous

    The Muslim students had permission to display the flags by the appropriate Cornell officials. Those who can’t stand the THOUGHT of an alternative view have shown here just how hypocritical and anti-American Constitutional freedoms they are. They shouldn’t be in an instition of higher learning until they can pass an American citizenship test.

    I wonder what the ‘good’ people of the ADL would think of this trashing of a legitimate expression of concern for the lopsided terror visited upon Palestinians virtually unable to defend their women and children by the overwhelming military force – a WEHRMACHT – much of it paid for by my fellow Americans.

    1300 Palestinian men, women and children indiscriminantly slaughtered to avenge 13 IDF forces killed.

    Tough men, those Israeli IDF’ers. (I wonder how tough they would be without their tanks, warplanes and attack helicopters.

    Israel is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world of civilized peoples. Much of Europe and Britain continue to despise Israel for their intransigence and murderous CONTEMPT for their NEIGHBORS!!

    And the defamation sure to follow – in a feable attempt to intimiate me and others who agree with me into silence – we will be labeled anti-semites. OH NO!! not the “anti-semite” slur!! It doesn’t fly anymore.

    Think of a more appropriate label: like anti-Israeli aggression.

    BTW, “Semitic” refers to a family of Afro-Asian LANGUAGES of which Arabic and Hebrew are extant.

    I am not opposed to languages.

  • Anonymous

    I think this is the most ignorant comment on this thread so far. It is full of hatred and nothing else, but hatred. I wouldn’t call it antisemitic… I would just call it stupid.

  • KB

    I urge you to take a closer look.
    “unmarked black flags signifying BOTH Israeli and Palestinian deaths was an appropriate choice.”

    Except that they don’t signify both sides. If you look at the numbers, which most people do–the recent death toll ratio is ridiculous… over 1000 Palestinians, about 13 Israelis? These numbers are taken out of context. TO have 1330 flags, is to memorialize only the Palestinian side.

    This harsh act by Israel was taken because of EIGHT YEARS of Quassam and Grad rockets being launched into Southern Israel. To represent the loss on both sides, this context can not be ignored! Israel held back for 8 years, until this cease fire agreement “ended” and Hamas didn’t want to renew the ceasefire. After the ceasefire ended, the rocket fire escalated, reaching into the middle of Israel, threatening power plants, homes, civilian lives, factories that could release harmful chemicals if hit.

    And so, after all this time, when the rocket fire escalated, (and during an opportune time diplomatically, before Obama took office) Operation Cast Lead happened. It was meant to silence Hamas, to show them that they can’t go on with these rocket attacks. So the people who died in the past between Christmas and the beginning of our Spring Semester–they were mostly Palestinians. This is not representing loss on both sides, by any means.

  • KB

    Interesting way of skewing the information…

    “1300 Palestinian men, women and children indiscriminantly slaughtered to avenge 13 IDF forces killed.”

    How do you avenge deaths that happen in the future? Because the 13 soldiers that died, died during the operation, not before it started.

    No. Operation Cast Lead was not meant to avenge 13 IDF forces killed. It was not meant to avenge period. It was meant to deter more rocket launching, to paralyze Hamas, so that maybe the Palestinians can gather together to form a government that actually cares about the well being of its citizens.

    Listen… 60 years ago, the Jews who were kicked out of countries around the world–middle eastern and european(or who escaped from countries where they were being brutally attacked) came to a dessert. The army–the tanks, the planes, the helicopters, the intelligence… this is something Israel developed to defend itself. If it didn’t have to constantly defend itself, there would be no reason to put so many resources toward the army–maybe their education system and water supply could be improved! But that’s not the case. They have to defend themselves when they’re constantly being bombarded with rocket fire, and they shouldn’t have to apologize for developing their army as they did.

  • Anonymous

    So what you’re saying is that 13 Israeli flags and 1287 Palestinian flags would have been more appropriate?

    The demonstration was about the general loss of life after this most recent conflict. Its not about assigning blame. I realize that the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a long sticky history of which both sides are guilty. I get that. I really do.

    However, the people who died most recently are not the ones responsible for the past 80 years of violence. If everyone is so hung up on the past, then we can never move forward.

    I’m a German Jew. Think about that one for a while. If I held every other German responsible for my Grandparents’ deaths regardless of if they were even Nazi affiliated, I would get nowhere in life.

    I hope that people will someday learn to identify with their fellow humans rather than hold grudges against people whose ancestors did wrong to people whom you share some abstract identity with.