October 11, 2000

Students Organize Silent Protest to Middle East Conflict

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The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) organized a march to the Straight last Friday to protest the current situation in Palestine and Israel. Demonstrators paraded signs declaring “stop the killing” and “peace and justice for all Palestinians.”

“The point of the march was to have a silent and peaceful protest against the Israeli military’s aggression on Palestinians,” said Omer Bajwa grad, president of MECA.

In the past ten days, violence in Palestine and Israel has escalated dramatically, setting back Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“We wanted to show our support for civilians in Palestine, as well as heighten public awareness of what’s going on and the atrocities that are being committed,” Bajwa added, also citing the 1800 Palestinian civilians injured as of yesterday, a large number of whom were under eighteen.

A picture of Muhammad al-Durrah, the twelve-year-old Arab Palestinian killed last week in Gaza in the crossfire between Palestinian and Israeli forces, was displayed on signs during Friday’s march.

But Daniel Kasell ’02, president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, felt that Friday’s march didn’t portray the crisis accurately.

“I think that it’s only natural for them to want to make their voices heard,” he said. “[But] their portrayal of what’s going on — a massacre being perpetrated just by Israel — is inaccurate. Israel has shown great restraint. It has a prerogative to protect its citizenry from the rioting crowds.”

He criticized MECA’s use of the death of the twelve-year-old boy to propagate Arab support.

“They always fall back to the picture of [him],” Kasell said. “They fail to consider that maybe a boy like that isn’t the target of the fire.”

Still, Muhammed Lawai ’01, treasurer of MECA, stressed that “innocent children and women are being killed very brutally” and that it was important to inform people of “the extent of the inhumanity.”

Members of MECA deemed the event successful, as approximately seventy-five to eighty demonstrators were counted when they convened at Anabel Taylor Hall before marching down Ho Plaza Friday afternoon.

“I believe we got a word out,” Bajwa said. “We understand that it was Fall Break, but we did our duty to inform people of what was going on.”

“People were generally interested,” Lawai added. “Cornell is an institution where people can get … too concerned with their studies. We wanted to create awareness.”

Rebecca Abou-Chedid ’01, co-chair of the Arab Club, believed that the march would have been more successful had it not fallen on the last day before Fall Break, which prevented her own participation.

“I think they definitely could have had a larger attendance had it not been [close to] break,” she said. “It’s an issue that touches the hearts of a lot of students here. They would have wanted to participate.”

Cornell students and staff were not the only people marching on Friday.

“There were similar rallies around the world from L.A. to New York and also in Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” Bajwa said.

He particularly noted the significance of the demonstration held in Washington D.C. where protesters were urging Americans to write their Congressmen to end U.S. arms support being sent to the Israeli government.

According to Bajwa, protesters pointed out that “it’s our tax money going to foreign aid to the Israeli government who is using it to buy ammunition and tanks and then inflicting these casualties on Palestinian civilians.”

Both Muslims and Israelis on campus have considered meeting to discuss the peace talks, but the recent crisis has hindered any conferences in the near future.

“About two to three weeks ago we initiated having an informal discussion about the peace process,” Kasell said. “That has been postponed indefinitely.”

Archived article by Olga Byrne