Student Groups Struggle to Address Gaza Conflict
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Category: News > University > Student Life
Following the violence in Gaza during the past three weeks, recently halted by cease-fires, student groups are struggling with how to best address the issues without provoking further campus tensions.
At least 1,259 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died in the conflict since Dec. 27. Israel and Hamas both declared separate cease-fires Sunday, the Associated Press reported.
Tensions between supporters of Israel and Palestine have appeared on campus as well. Last semester, an altercation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine individuals led to the citations of two students and one non-student with battery.
Although the District Attorney of Alameda County announced no charges will be filed in the case, emotions have remained high, and as a consequence leaders are cautious about planning events.
"Especially because of what happened last November, leaders of student groups have been very careful not to exercise their power in ways that lead to violence," said Tara Raffi, president of the Jewish Student Union.
As a result, Gary Yevelev, political advocacy chair of the Israel Action Committee, said members of his group have had mixed reactions to the latest bout of violence, and that he is concerned increased fighting in Gaza could aggravate relations between campus groups.
"When the casualties start piling up and people have friends and family in the area, things get a lot more heated," he said.
In the hopes of mitigating the potential for conflict during the group's next event, Yevelev said they are considering holding a speakers panel with experts on issues in the Middle East.
Other student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association and the Arab Student Union, are forming the Gaza Solidarity Coalition together, aimed at raising awareness about violence in Gaza.
"We're not trying to start controversy, we're just stating facts," said Shadi Elkarra, a member of the Arab Student Union. "We can learn from each other's perspective-what's going on in the Middle East can provide room for dialogue between these two student populations."
Ramy Salah, president of the Muslim Student Association, said that while last semester's altercation was upsetting, he remained hopeful students could conduct themselves with civility when addressing controversial issues.
"It's more on an individual level. People need to realize that we're in UC Berkeley, which is a platform for free speech and expressing our opinions," he said. "UC Berkeley students are smart enough to learn from their mistakes."
Valerie Woolard is the assistant university news editor. Contact her at [email protected]
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