UC Berkeley Students Discuss Mideast Crisis





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As Mideast peace talks continued yesterday, UC Berkeley students reacted to the current crisis in the Middle East with heated debates.

Circles of people gathered on Upper Sproul Plaza to discuss the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Small groups of students quickly divided themselves into opposing factions and exchanged lively discussion about ongoing talks to resolve the latest conflict.

The debate began when Will Youmans, a Boalt Hall School of Law student, was passing out flyers about an on-campus discussion of the current violence. He said he was approached by a fellow student who called his discussion "one-sided." Youmans replied that the U.S. media was one-sided in their coverage of the current violence.

As the two debated, a crowd gathered, reaching approximately 50 people at its peak.

Youmans disagreed with many of the terms, such as "crossfire" and "riot" that are used to describe the violence. He maintained that the words commonly used are inherently pro-Israel.

"To apply the word riot implies that there was peace," he said. "A state of military occupation is not peace."

He and other Palestinian supporters maintained that the social system in Israel has been "oppressing" and "lopsided" and even compared it to apartheid. This "powermongering," he argued, has been the cause of the violence in Israel.

In response to Youmans, Tomer Altman, the co-chair of the Israel Action Committee, said the Israeli

government should not be labeled as similar to apartheid.

"You cannot call the Israeli government an apartheid government when they represent the Israeli Arabs, who are citizens in that government," Altman said.

Current violence in Israel is unjustified, Youmans said, but can be understood. He maintained that Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's presence with Israeli troops nearly two weeks ago at the Temple Mount was an act of violence.

"Terrorism is not productive, but in the face of overwhelming violence, it's advisable," he said.

Youmans said he thinks peace will come through "justice."

"If we want to find peace, I refer to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s definition - 'peace is not merely the absence of tension,'" Youmans said. "(It is) the implementation of justice."

Altman did not approve of the use of "justice" to describe an ideal ending to the conflict and said he disagreed with Youmans.

"Not everything that has happened is just," Altman said. "This would imply making a valued decision about who is right and wrong, which is not productive."

As the discussion progessed, Palestinian and Israeli supporters seemed to agree with each other more than they disagreed. They all said they abhorred the violence on both sides and hoped for peace.

Despite their respectful disagreements, both Youmans and Altman agreed that a "bi-national secular state" would bring peace to the region.

"It is the only thing that will bring a true and just peace," Youmans said.

On this point, Altman was in agreement.

"I support that idea," he said. "Gradually absorbing Gaza and the West Bank and creating an establishment where both peoples are given a democratic way of life, where they can elect their own officials."

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