Tensions Highlighted by Student's Arrest


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Tensions between UC Berkeley student groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Tikvah: Students for Israel resurfaced Friday following the arrest of a pro-Palestinian student for alleged battery.

Jessica Felber, co-president of Tikvah, said that SJP member Husam Zakharia rammed a cart full of toys into her from behind on Upper Sproul Plaza at about 1 p.m. Friday. Both student groups held awareness events for their respective causes last week on the plaza.

UCPD Lt. Alex Yao confirmed that Zakharia was arrested Friday but declined to give details, citing an ongoing investigation.

"(We were) holding signs saying things about peace," Felber said. "I feel an impact on my back. I turn around and there is a cart about five feet high and three feet wide, and one of the SJP members I see first, he says, 'What? It was an accident,' very sarcastically."

She added that Zakharia left the scene and was arrested only after she spotted him several hours later and notified police.

Zakharia was booked for battery and released, according to Alameda County court records. His arraignment is scheduled for April 6.

Zakharia said his arrest was "a misunderstanding" but declined to comment further on the incident.

The campus chapter of SJP was collecting toys Friday for children in the Gaza Strip, according to Tom Pessah, a member of the group.

"Because the cart was full of toys, (Zakharia) couldn't see where he was going," Pessah said.

He added the relationships between members of the two groups have been relatively friendly recently, except for a few incidents.

"The perception is largely based on single visible events on Sproul and not on less visible ongoing contacts that are occurring over time, like having coffee with people," Pessah said. "The general atmosphere is not as polarized as it is presented."

Tensions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students have been ongoing for years.

Tikvah founder John Moghtader and former ASUC Senator Gabe Weiner interrupted an SJP-sponsored speech by scholar Norman Finkelstein in fall 2008, and pro-Palestinian students interrupted a 2004 campus appearance by Daniel Pipes, a pro-Israeli scholar.

"The record of each group speaks for itself," Moghtader said.

A fight in November 2008 involving Zakharia and Moghtader led to the latter's recall from the ASUC Senate, which was announced exactly one year ago last Friday.

Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard said an effort to bring together a broad range of pro-Israeli, Jewish, pro-Palestinian and Muslim groups on campus ultimately stalled on resolving long-running enmity between Tikvah and SJP.

He said each group-like any other student groups-has a right to exercise free speech, but must control the means through which debates are staged.

"My goal was not so much that I was concerned as to the 'what' of the conversation," he said. "I was concerned about the 'how' of the conversation."


Zach E.J. Williams is the university news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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