As violence in the Middle East continues to escalate, GW students are expressing their solidarity with the Palestinians or Israelis by rallying at demonstrations around D.C.
“Now is the time when all of us, including my fellow students across the country, must stand up . with Israel,” said sophomore Gabi Gershowitz in a speech Monday afternoon at a pro-Israel rally on the corner of 17th and K streets.
The rally, whose slogan was “No Cause Justifies Suicide Bombings,” was held at the Palestinian Information Office and sponsored by Friends and Family in Israel. Director Peter Hebert said the group is an ad hoc committee of people who consider themselves “a friend of Israel.”
Hebert estimated that 250 people, including about 15 GW students, attended the rally.
During his speech, Gershowitz denounced daily Palestinian suicide bombings, calling them “a means for Palestine to advance a political platform.”
Saturday, about two dozen GW students participated in a pro-Palestine rally in Freedom Plaza near the White House. Demonstrators blamed the Israeli government for the ongoing violence.
In response to a wave of suicide bombings last week, which included an attack on a Passover Seder in the Israeli city of Netanya that killed 26 people, the Israeli military is conducting a sweep of West Bank towns to eliminate the terrorist threats.
The Israeli military began by invading the West Bank town of Ramallah and has surrounded the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, shutting off water, power and telephone service.
Students at both rallies denounced the ongoing violence but offered difference answers for who is to blame.
Junior Katelin Mason said she believes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is responsible for the strife.
“The Israeli government is bulldozing homes and terrorizing citizens. Palestinian men aged 14 to 60 are being rounded up and never being returned,” she said, referring to Israel’s village-by-village and at times house-by-house search for Palestinian militants.
Students at the pro-Israel disagreed.
“Anyone who says Arafat is not behind the violence is in a dreamworld,” said junior Dan Jaffe
According to Israeli officials, the military has arrested about 800 suspected militants, some of which are on its most wanted list, while the Palestinians denounce the mass roundups as collective punishment.
People of all ages joined of the pro-Israel rally Monday and many carried signs or Israeli and American flags. At one point, protesters spilled out onto the street, catching the attention of drivers crossing the busy intersection.
“I think it’s a good thing to get out and show people terrorism is not a way to solve problems,” said sophomore Tal Viskin, who said he lived in Israel for eight years.
Gershowitz said although he would have “liked to see more people” at the rally, he was “happy with turnout, considering it took place during the middle of the day.”
Other speakers included several rabbis and 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
“This is what being at GW is all about,” senior Matt Kernkraut said. “Instead of protesting on campus, I’m part of a national protest. This is the real thing.”
Some participants said GW students should be more aware of the issues.
While Kernkaut said GW student groups are doing a “great job of informing people about what’s going on,” Gershowitz said Israel’s cause is “one that needs more awareness on campus.”
Others agreed that more understanding of the issues is needed.
“People at GW are extremely uninformed,” Mason said “All they watch is CNN.”
According to students at the Palestinian rally Saturday, about 300 flag and sign-bearing people attended the rally, including students from GW, Georgetown, American and George Mason universities and the University of Virginia.
“I was delighted with the turnout and very happy to see young people there,” said Hussein Ibish, rally emcee and communications director for the Arab-American Anti-discrimination Committee.
Speakers included Hassam abdel Rahman, Palestinian ambassador to the United States; Clovis Maksoud, former ambassador of the Arab League to the United States and the United Nations; and ADC President Ziad Asaly.
Mason, along with other GW students who participated in the rally, said news organizations fail to show the Palestinian side of the story, and, as a result, many people misunderstand the Palestinian cause.
“There’s no question every news station is propaganda,” she said.
Mason denounced the Palestinian suicide bombings but said they are a sign of the desperation Palestinians face.
“(They are) horrible and wrong . but may have been a symbol saying Palestinians don’t deserve oppression and humiliation every day,” she said.
Mason said he hopes to promote understanding of the Palestinian plight.
“The only thing we can do is educate people,” said sophomore Rasha Ahmad, who attended the rally. “They haven’t seen the Palestinian side.”
Sophomore Zeinah Al-Hajji, who also attended the rally, agreed.
“There is ignorance among students about Palestinians,” she said.
Al-Hajji said that because the roads were blocked around Freedom Park, the “message didn’t get out” as much as it could have if motorists had seen the protesters.
She said the first step in solving the crisis is a cease-fire, “but because we’ve been occupied for 54 years, peace is going to take awhile.”
The United Nations passed a partition plan in 1947 which called for two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, on the British Mandate of Palestine.
The Jews accepted the partition plan declaring Israeli independence in May 1948 while the Arab states rejected the plan on behalf of the Palestinians and declared war on Israel. Jordan took control of West Bank while Egypt took over the Gaza Strip – both lands promised to Palestinians.
In 1967, Israel fought a six-day war against Jordan, Syria and Egypt taking control of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel allowed the Palestinians increasing autonomy over the Gaza Strip and 40 percent of the West Bank after 1993 Oslo Peace Accords but have taken control of most of those territories in the last week.
The rally was held on what is known to Palestinians as “Land Day,” which the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, who sponsored the rally, calls “a traditional day of international solidarity with Palestinian rights.”