February 24, 2009

Rally Protests Hamas Rule, Calls For Peace

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Over the past three weeks, Cornell’s campus has been gripped by discussions and demonstrations surrounding the current escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yesterday, the Cornell Israel Public Affair’s Committee (CIPAC) and Hillel hosted a march and rally in support of a vision of peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
The march, which began outside Olin Hall, was a demonstration supporting a solution to the perpetual violence occurring between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Before beginning the march, Jesse Berkowsky ’09, executive vice president of CIPAC, urged supporters to act in accordance with their stated message.
“We are in support of Israel and peace. Let’s keep our conduct that way,” he said.
About 50 people joined the short march from Olin Hall to the McGraw Tower. Approximately 100 people gathered in Ho Plaza for the rally.
Demonstrators showed their support for an array of causes: Palestine, Israel, Israel’s right to self-defense and a perpetual quest for peace. They protested against Hamas and the use of terror.
“We are not against Palestine. We are against a terrorist organization. We are here marching for dreams of peace and security for everyone,” Yigal Gross law said. “At the end of the day, Hamas is not democratically elected; they have seized control, and have been holding Palestinians hostage to wage a campaign against Israel.”
[img_assist|nid=35494|title=Snow or shine|desc=Around 100 students gather on Ho Plaza yesterday for a rally protesting Hamas and expressing hope for an end to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Hamas gained the majority in the Palestinian parliament after winning 76 of the 132 seats in a democratic election in Jan. 2006, according to The Washington Post.
Demonstrators paraded with signs and called for the defeat of terror, the defeat of Hamas, pro-Israeli defense statements and pleas to free Gaza from Hamas. They chanted “Israel wants peace” as they marched.
In an e-mail, Shai Akabas, president of CIPAC, explicated CIPAC and Hillel’s vision of peace for the Israelis and Palestinians that “includes two states living side by side, enjoying all the fundamental rights and freedoms of every democratic nation. [It is also] a vision where the people of the Middle East are free of Hamas and its tactics of terror.”
Opening the rally, Akabas addressed the recent vandalization of the exhibit on the arts quad two weeks ago.
“Disagreement with our peers is welcomed, but disrespect on campus is not … Impairing the freedom of expression of our fellow students cannot be justified,” Akabas said.
Akabas also criticized a panel discussion held last Wednesday, which was initiated by Wasif Syed grad and sponsored by various departments and student organizations on campus.
“The Gaza panel discussion this past Wednesday was an insult to the academic integrity that Cornell University prides itself on,” Akabas stated.
Akabas hoped that yesterday’s rally would help usher in a new era of productive discourse on Cornell’s campus.
Numerous student leaders attended the rally. Speakers included president of the Student Assembly Ryan Lavin ’09, former president of the Cornell Democrats Ethan Felder ’09 and president of the Cornell Republicans Ray Mensah ’11.
Lavin urged the crowd to “say ‘yes’ to Israel, ‘yes’ to Palestine and ‘yes’ to peace.” He echoed the rally’s mission in speaking for the creation of a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state and in condemning civilian deaths.
“I blame Hamas for using terror to manipulate elections and people. For me being pro-Israel is being pro-peace,” Lavin said.
Felder addressed the rally as a “proud liberal and a supporter of Israel.”
Following Felder, Mensah proclaimed his support for Israelis and Palestinians. He urged the crowd not to underestimate the power of the spoken and written word and encouraged them to write to their congressmen, senators and local elected officials for continued support of Israel and peace.
At the outskirts of the crowd, a small group of about five people stood around Khullat Munir ’09, who was handing out photocopies of an op-ed from the New York Times entitled “What You Don’t Know About Gaza,” which highlights Israel’s role as an “occupying power” and the “life-threatening problems” brought about by the blockade.
Munir claimed to not be representative of any organization and refused to comment.
Some students believed the rally served as a reminder that, as students in the United States on a college campus, “we are in one of the best places to analyze and work through these complex and divisive issues,” Lavin said.
To conclude, Jacob Shapiro ’10, president of Cornell Hillel, recited a prayer praising peace. The rally ended with members of the crowd singing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah.
Drew Forman grad expressed praise for yesterday’s rally.
Until now, “[The debate on campus] has been a conversation controlled by demonization … [Both] the community’s unwavering hope for peace and the correction of misinformation spread by those who seek to demonize are needed, and today both were heard at the pro-Israel rally with the slogan ‘Yes to Israel. Yes to Palestine. Yes to Peace.’”
Continuing the dialogue and debate on this divisive issue, CIPAC and Cornell Hillel erected a new exhibit on Gaza on the Arts Quad on Sunday night.
Akabas said that the purpose of the 37 signs was to “put the situation in Gaza and Israel in a broader context.”
“[Our signs] have more information [put] in a more comprehensive form to let people better form their own opinion and analysis of the situation,” Akabas said.
Judah Bellin ’12, who is also a Sun columnist, helped with the exhibit. He stated in an e-mail that the signs are an attempt to “present Israel’s humanitarian efforts during the operation, Hamas’ usurpation of said efforts [and] to show the side of Hamas that brainwashes its children into a cult of hate and violence.”
This exhibition which will end be taken down on Thursday, was done with Cornell’s Islamic Alliance for Justice’s knowledge.