Groups butt heads over Middle East crisis

A handful of student organizations are struggling to see eye-to-eye over the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands of miles away from Main Campus, there is a war in the Middle East.

Even though Temple is nowhere near the war, many students and organizations are deeply affected by it and passionate about bringing truth and awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to campus.

The obstacles they face in spreading this word, however, are similar to those that perpetuate the conflict in the Middle East ­– they cannot agree on what is truth, what is fair or what would be a viable solution.

One thing nearly everyone agrees on is that peace is the ultimate goal. How to get there is where discrepancies lie.

Arkadiy Landa tables for TSI in the Student Center lobby (Nic Lukehart/TTN).

There were no recent efforts between the affected student organizations – Hillel, Temple Students for Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association – to come together and discuss this conflict.

In fact, some student leaders in the organizations think it would be counter-productive to their causes.
“I would love to get together with [Students for Justice in Palestine], but they don’t acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. So why would I get together with a group like that?” said Arkadiy Landa, vice president of TSI. “The most basic prerequisite for peace is acknowledging the other party’s right to exist.”

Sarah Salem, a senior architecture major and member of SJP, said the group does acknowledge Israel as a state.

“SJP recognizes Israelis’ rights to live in Palestine, in what is now Israel, but we are not an organization that poses a solution for Palestine,” she said. “We are just an organization that tries to make people aware of what is going on in Palestine.”

Salem said she believes members of SJP are too removed from the actual violence in the Middle East to be able to offer solutions. The more important issue for Salem is the ability to coexist.

She agrees coming together as student organizations may not be in everyone’s best interest.

Salem said SJP generally makes it a rule not to attend events hosted by pro-Israel groups.

“It’s not because we don’t respect them, it’s because we do,” she said.

Salem said tensions rise quickly and unnecessary arguments can form at these events.

SJP members Sarah Salem, Monira Gamal-Eldin and Meaza Iyassu discuss upcoming demonstrations in light of the conflict in Gaza (Nic Lukehart/TTN).

Dr. Khalid Blankinship, director of graduate studies for the religion department and Islamic history specialist, said civility will best help the situation between the student organizations.

“[These groups] can’t do much, but it would be very helpful if they could begin to be civil to each other,” he said. “The Muslims, because they have been on the defensive in the United States, are probably more open to that because you do not find Muslim organizations going out of their way to berate the Jews or Israel.”

Judah Ferst, program director for Hillel, acknowledges there is some tension between certain members of these groups but not between the groups as a whole.

“When they have had events, we have handed out pamphlets and vice versa,” Ferst said.

While these groups work to raise awareness on campus, there remains a strong sense of doubt among them about whether they can cause real change.

Landa spent the first week of the Spring 2009 semester tabling at the Student Center for TSI. The passionate self-proclaimed Zionist hung Israel’s flag from a table neatly organized with a colorful variety of pamphlets, facts, figures and photographs all supporting his cause.

As curious passers-by stop and linger, he engages them and explains his beliefs.

Landa said change will come “as soon as the Palestinian people stand up against Hamas and stop supporting Hamas and stop supporting Fatah, as soon as Palestinians accept Israel’s right to exist, they will give them Gaza and the West Bank.”

Both groups said they believe there is a strong media bias, but where the bias leans is a point of difference.

Landa said TSI’s goal is to “counter anti-Israel media-bias propaganda by providing people with the facts they do no get from CNN or BBC.”

Monira Gamal-Eldin, a junior business major and member of MSA and SJP, said to become more informed, students should “reach out to other news and media. Start watching Al-Jazeera English, [which is] less biased than American mainstream media.”

Dr. Rebecca Alpert, a religion and women’s studies professor who serves as SJP’s adviser, said the Jews fear they will not be able to practice their religion and live fulfilling Jewish lives if Hamas gains control of the area.

“That would be a tragedy, but it’s a hypothetical one,” Alpert said. “Right now, there is a tragedy that has Israel being very powerful and dominating the Palestinians and not allowing their free expression.”
While the debate here on campus, and perhaps worldwide, could go on indefinitely, all involved want people to keep in mind that real human lives are being lost on both sides, and everyone wants peace, recognition and a safe place to call home.

“Both Islam and Judaism as religions are religions of peace,” Alpert said. “This is not how we want either of our religions to be represented in the world, as bloody battling religions.”

Andrea Hanratty can be reached at andrea.hanratty@temple.edu.

9 Comments

  1. These groups cannot agree on truth lies because the US media is typically way off target and neither side feel their perspective is faithfully portrayed. The Zionist perspective in the US is extremist, and essentially emanates from the Israeli government’s propaganda machine and is consistently dubious at best. But the independent Israeli media outlets inside Israeli, especially Haaretz, do a surprisingly good job at providing unbiased information. The corresponding Palestinian extremist message is non-existent in the US, limited primarily to direct communications from Hamas, a legitimate, democratically elected government committed to propagandistic messaging, just like the Israeli government. The difference is that Hamas propaganda does not inform the US media perspective. The most informative, thorough, and unbiased journalism, comes from, surprise surprise, Al Jazeera, which has excellent coverage on both its Arabic and English language channels. Once again, this perspective is absent from main stream US media. Claims that Al Jazeera is biased are not denied by the organization itself. They have a self-affirmed commitment to telling the story of the oppressed, the poor, the powerless, the forgotten and downtrodden people of the Earth, which in this case are the Palestinians. For those sympathetic to Zionist views on the conflict and for those sympathetic to the Palestinians, the US media and the US public just don’t get it. The question that begs to be asked is what don’t they get?

  2. “Hundreds of thousands of miles away from Main Campus, there is a war in the Middle East.” Gaza is less than 6,000 miles away from Philadelphia. The was has been over for over a week. Do some research before you write an article.

  3. On what basis does Mr. Landa arrive at the conclusion that SJP denies the right to Israel’s existence? None. He and TSI categorically label an oppositional group and offer no evidence for the assertion. They CAN do this because they MUST do this. To do otherwise is to possibly acknowledge the absolute disproportionate suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians.

    No, they MUST console themselves with the lie that any conviction on behalf of the Palestinians is also a resulting denial of Israel’s right to exist. Without image of a beleaguered Israel whose every challenge and criticism brings with it a desire for its non-existence, Mr. Landa and is sort might have to admit that Israel acts like a bully and carries out nigh-indiscriminate killing of its colonized subjects in Gaza (recently) and the West Bank. It is, thus, much easier consoling oneself as being here the victim and not the abject victimizer.

  4. This article is a classical depiction of “he said, she said” nonesense that journalists need to stay away from. I’m sorry but how was this published?

  5. That’s absolutely hilarious… In a galaxy far, far away… Approximately, ” Hundreds of thousands of miles away from Main Campus, there is a war in the Middle East.”… Nice job you dopes, try researching first, or look at a map… or even easier, just Google the distance. Nice, a semi well written article, was destroyed by not paying attention to details…

  6. Secondly, this author has no credibility on this matter solely on basis that she cannot get her geography in order. Next, the Palestinians have been terrorizing the Israelis for years. I found it very surprising that they found the restraint over the years, after being rocketed hundreds of times, not to invade the Gaza strip.

    Start watching Al-Jazeera English, [which is] less biased than American mainstream media.” What???! Are you kidding me. How is showing American Soldiers being shot by snipers and convoys of troops being blown up by EFP’s while they chant Allah- Akbar is less biased, is beyond me. Al Jazeera is nothing more then right leaning middle eastern propaganda at its best.

    The Palestinians have no problem letting Hamas, identified as a terrorist group by most western countries, shoot rockets from their back yard. But watch out, when Israel invades to protect their country from further attacks, Hamas has no problem crying to big media and Western nations for help. They should have thought about that before launching those rockets at civilians.

    Lastly, these countries need to stop relying on the US to solve their problems. It easier for them to run to US to fix their problems, instead of taking the necessary steps to solve it on their OWN.

  7. If Israel has no business being in the middle east, then Palestine for sure doesn’t because there has never been a country, people or culture associated with Palestine. Palestinians are nothing but Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese and Jordanians. Palestine is only a name established during the Ottoman empire and is a shortened version of a previous land called Syria Palestina, which was a name of the region previously given by the Roman Emperor named Hadrian. There has been Jewish presence in that land for over 3,000 years and there is plenty of archeological evidence. The Jews are the oldest known culture still in existence today, and have had a presence in the land of Israel since the begging of time. So there has always been presence in Israel and some more Jews began migrating from Europe in the late 1800’s early 1900’s and started to buy the land from local Arabs. Mark Twain himself described the land as barren desserts and swamps. The local Arabs, most likely Jordanians, sold the Jewish people the land fair and square. Once the Jews took the land, they began irrigating it and building an economy. When the land began to look promising, many Arabs decided to move back into the land because of the economical opportunity. Thats when the political uproar began. Never once were the Palestinian people willing to give up land that wasn’t theirs, but the Jews have always been willing. Since the Balford declaration of 1917, Palestinians were unhappy. In fact Balford suggested giving the Jewish people a small section of the north and majority of what is Israel today to the Palestinians. Palestinians were unhappy and rebelled against the idea of coexisting, meanwhile, the Jews were happy to have the idea of an established state no matter the size of land. As history continues, again Palestinians have not been satisfied, from the 1948 borders to the 1967 borders. Even when Israel hands back Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians are complaining. What happens when Israel hands over Gaza? 13,000 Rockets in return, killing innocent civilians. Imagine giving the west bank into Palestinian hands. The West Bank is a lot bigger than Gaza, so Israel would expect 100,000’s of Rockets in return. When the Palestinian people can finally have a control on their government, then I think it would make sense to negotiate territory. Until then, no way will Israel accept talks. Look at Oslo, Israel was the first to initiate agreements and began withdrawing citizens, giving weapons to the Palestinian Authority, and in return the citizens rebelled and used our own weapons against us. How can you make peace when your enemies do not even want you to exist? When Palestinians are ready to accept the fact that Israel is a country that will remain to exist and the Jews are entitled to their country, then peace negotiations can move forward. Israel is still looking for a partner for peace, and until then nothing will be achieved.

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