Pro-Israeli, Palestinian protesters square off

Land Day, which marks the killings of six Palestinians in 1976, sparked the protests.

SJoe Mahon Student groups representing Israelis and Palestinians clashed on campus Friday, pointing fingers and shouting at each other.

Students for Justice in Palestine and the Arab Student Association organized a demonstration at Coffman Union to observe Land Day. Approximately 50 supporters attended.

Land Day commemorates the March 30, 1976, killings of six Palestinians during a protest over Israeli military confiscation of farmland.

Pro-Israel students, including several Friends of Israel members, organized a counter-demonstration. The groups’ demonstrations coincided with a rally in support of U.S. troops in Iraq and an antiwar counter-protest.

Though the Land Day demonstration and pro-Israel counter-demonstration were independent of the war protests, participation overlapped. At one point, Israeli flags joined “Liberate Iraq” signs, and antiwar demonstrators joined Land Day protesters.

“The Palestinian struggle is tied in with what’s going on in Iraq right now,” Students for Justice in Palestine member Katie Bonn said, adding that Israel is taking advantage of the U.S. preoccupation with Iraq to crack down on Palestinians.

As demonstrators gathered, the two sides began to shout at each other. In order to call more attention to their protest, the Land Day demonstrators marched to the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building plaza to get away from the other rally, according to an Students for Justice in Palestine e-mail announcement.

The approximately 30 counter-demonstrators, waving Israeli flags and beating drums, followed the march to the plaza.

“The point of moving from Coffman to here was so we didn’t have this conflict,” said Tracy Molm, a University senior and Students for Justice in Palestine member.

The demonstrators handed out pamphlets as speakers talked about Land Day, human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories and the campaign to persuade U.S. universities to stop investing in companies that do business in Israel.

Meanwhile, both sides shouted slogans and insults at each other.

The two groups kept a distance from one another most of the time. There were only a few face-to-face confrontations. No physical violence occurred.

When one speaker compared the Israeli occupation to apartheid, Friends of Israel member Stephanie Nygard said, “Tell me how it’s apartheid when there are 12 Arabs in the Knesset.”

The Knesset is the Israeli parliament.

As the speeches continued, counter-protesters chanted “shalom aleichem,” – Hebrew for “peace be with you” – to the beat of drums.

“We’re here for peace. They’re here for hostility,” Nygard said.

The Land Day demonstrators also said they wanted peace.

“The only time Friends of Israel and Hillel come out is in response to our protests,” Molm said.

Hillel is the University’s Jewish student center.

After speeches ended, chanting and shouting continued for another 20 minutes. As the crowd dissipated, a few participants talked about their disagreements at a lower volume.