“Go do your homework!” onlookers shouted, as a dozen students gathered on the Arts Quad yesterday morning to revive what remained of a display of black flags protesting the war in Gaza. Hours before, passersby were startled to find that a number of the black flags that originally lined the Arts Quad Monday morning had been rearranged to form a Star of David — the symbol of Jewish identity.
“Half of the flags were missing and signs were on the floor again,” said Tara Malik ’09, president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice. On Monday morning, Malik had joined forces with a number of students in and out of IAJ to erect the display of 1,300 black flags — each representing the life of a Palestinian or Israeli lost in the conflict. Yesterday, however, Malik and other concerned students spent the morning undoing the vandalism by constructing the remaining flags into a peace sign.
“I was upset that our display — all the time and effort — was taken down,” Malik said.
Amy Pearlman ’09, former president of Hillel, expressed indignation over the damage, which she described as an exploitation of the Jewish symbol.
“I was appalled that someone vandalized someone’s property and display and used a symbol that represents a community that is for peace,” Pearlman said, as she picked up flags that had been strewn onto a pile in the mud.
The Cornell University Police Department has been investigating the ongoing destruction that has played out on the Arts Quad since Monday afternoon, when a number of signs detailing the crisis in Gaza were ripped from the ground. Yesterday, the CUPD arrived at around 11:30, and set up post between Morrill and McGraw Halls to keep watch on the display.
“We’re just here to keep the peace, walking around, making sure no one’s messing with the display,” CUPD Officer Lisa Van Horn said. “We’re gonna be here as long as the display is up today.”
Yesterday morning, Van Horn took the names of those placing the flags in a peace sign to assure that they were allowed to do so. According to Van Horn, security measures to be taken will include making periodic rounds to ensure police presence on the Arts Quad.
Fil Eden ’10 accompanied those constructing the peace sign, a symbol he said they chose in order to take a neutral stance on a polarizing issue.
“At first we were going to put it back,” Eden said. “[But that seemed] too aggressive, seemed like a snub. This is more conciliatory.”
Eden described the Star of David display as “tasteless” and suggested forming a peace sign, signifying “more of a coming together of the progressive community, the peace community.”
Khullat Munir ’09, outgoing president of the IAJ, helped organize the flag display to raise awareness of the war in Gaza. Munir and other student organizers of the week-long event were granted funding from the Office of the Dean of Students, Ethics and Public Life, Cornell United Religious Works, the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Alice Cook House. Munir described the most recent sabotage as “an act of aggression that was unwarranted.”
Rosie Lawrence ’11, curriculum director of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, was one of the first people to see the Star of David display at 7:45 a.m.
Many were quick to attribute blame to the Jewish community for the day’s actions.
“It is telling of how many different kinds of people there are here,” said Karen Zapata, an employee of the ILR Labor Research Center. “There are the Zionists here to destroy monuments and there are the Palestinians here to support their rights.”
“I was just very surprised,” Lawrence said, affirming that CIPAC had nothing to do with the flag formation. Lawrence said she thought as a whole, the week’s events surrounding the flag display had discouraged open discourse in the Israeli-Palestinian debate.
“Whatever the intent, I want to stress that the original display was very polarizing and undercut any potential for dialogue and mutual understanding,” she said.
Upon reflecting on the peace sign display that sprung up later in the morning, Lawrence was hesitant to support those who participated in rearranging the flags, and was skeptical of the exhibit’s underlying message.
“I think it’s great that the [participants] were distancing themselves from what happened this morning,” she continued. “At the same time, the flags never made a distinction between innocent Palestinians and Hamas fighters.”
President David Skorton, in a message to the community later in the day, took a neutral stance on the Gaza conflict, but spoke out against the degradation of the display.
“This University has and will continue to adhere to the principle that all perspectives and their proponents are welcome on our campus, and allowing the expression of opposing views on topics of deep national and international concern is in keeping with that principle,” Skorton stated.
At 6 p.m. last night, the flags were removed for the scheduled conclusion of the flag exhibit.