Middle Eastern conflict elicits disparate reactions

by Jamie VanGeest

Along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, two groups of people have struggled to coexist for more than 50 years.

The close existence of Palestinians and Israelis has become a daily battle with an intensifying war of bombs and words.

For a group of students on campus, news about Israelis or Palestinians evokes thoughts of the safety and future of their family and friends.

Tensions grew last week when an Israeli solider was captured by three Palestinian militant groups. The groups that claimed responsibility for the abduction included the armed wing of Hamas, which is affiliated with the group in charge of the Palestinian government.

The groups demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier’s release.

Since the kidnapping, Israeli forces bombed buildings in the Gaza Strip, including the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

“Israel really wants that soldier back and (the Palestinians) need to understand in a country where many go into the military, a missing solider is a pretty big deal,” said Ben Abrams, a finance senior who has friends in the Israeli Army.

The Israeli government has refused to work with Hamas and has tried to deal with the situation unilaterally, said Martin Sampson, a political science professor at the University.

“We are now beginning to see how this unilateral policy will play out in regards to Gaza,” Sampson said. “The policy does not seem to be working.”

There are some students who say Palestinians are portrayed incorrectly in the media.

Alia El Bakri, a junior in political science and Middle Eastern studies, said media haven’t referred to other situations dealing with captured soldiers as kidnappings.

“I don’t think they would call it kidnapping if the (Israelis) did the same action,” said El Bakri, whose father is Palestinian.

Mariam Hannon, a junior and Palestinian-American, said Palestinians are viewed more critically than Israelis.

“People see Palestinians as a group of barbarians; they don’t realize they are human beings who get hurt,” Hannon said.

Hannon’s great-uncle was killed by Israeli Army tear gas a few years ago. She said some of the most difficult things Palestinians deal with are the roadblocks and curfews set up by the Israeli government.

“You can hear horror stories about how people are waiting seven to 10 hours at roadblocks; it’s not a good way of life,” Hannon said.

Another issue is the arrest and detainment of Palestinians by the Israelis. She said people are detained for years and the arrestees and their families don’t know why they were arrested.

A friend of Hannon’s mother was arrested a few years ago and no one knows where he is, but people believe he did nothing wrong, she said.

Some students, like Hannon, find themselves on the side of the Palestinians, while others, like Dan Goodman, support the Israelis.

“The Israeli government will hold the Palestinian government responsible for anything that happens in their territory,” said Goodman, a political science and Jewish studies senior.

Goodman is restarting the Gopher Israel Public Affairs Committee on campus. The group’s Web site said it is involved with pro-Israel activism on campus and is committed to securing a strong relationship between the United States and Israel.

“(Protecting Israel) includes stopping the Palestinian terror factions from launching rocket attacks over the Gaza border into Israeli towns and kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians,” he said.

While the debate continues, some students believe there has to be a common ground.

Israeli graduate student Itai Himelboim is in Israel. Several of his friends live or work near the Gaza Strip and suffer day and night from Palestinian missile shootings, he said.

Himelboim said both sides have made mistakes in the conflict.

“Both sides are strongly disappointed with the other and there is very little trust between the parties,” he said.

One way to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is to learn more about each other and the things they care about, Himelboim said, the things that humiliate them and the things that make them trust.

“We need to accept each other as equal, to understand that we all are here to stay,” he said. “Then, maybe, we can start hope for a better future.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.