Tensions Flaring on Campus

Sophomores Hala Rharrit and Zeinah Al-Hajji were standing in front of Gelman Library Saturday when they saw the Palestinian flag with “Free Palestine” chalked on the other side of the street. Getting a closer look, they saw that “Free” was crossed out and replaced with “Defeat.” A few minutes later, the women said they saw a group of students spit on the flag.

“I was shocked,” Rharrit said. “In a country where we advocate free speech and cherish the flag as an important symbol, I take it as a sign of disrespect.”

Jonah Zinn, president of Jewish Students Association saw expressions
chalked on the sidewalk during the campus-wide chalking festival that were equally disturbing. He saw that someone had written “Jews killed Jesus” and “Ariel Sharon, how many kids have you killed today?”

“I think it is unfortunate that they took an event that was supposed to be apolitical and used it to promote things that were blatantly false,” he
said.

Freshman Ian Kandel, a JSA member, saw the remarks.

“I don’t agree with attacking anyone based on their race, ethnicity or
religion,” he said. “I just think that’s wrong. In situations like this,
comments are expected and are somewhat unavoidable. But I hope that both groups can continue acting in a mature way and not let the feelings and thoughts that were chalked continue in that fashion.”

For many students on campus, keeping friends during such an emotional conflict means avoiding the issue altogether.

“I do get a lot of opportunities to discuss what has been going on with a
lot of people,” said junior Jessica Stolow, a member of Hillel.

“Conversation has been very good, but I think in certain instances it’s
better not to approach the issue.”

Junior Jennifer Ibrahim agrees. She recalls watching the movie Gaza Strip with an Israeli friend. She said there was some underlying discomfort but ultimately the situation has been fine.

“I am from Lebanon and have very strong feelings in one way and she is from Israel so has strong feelings in the other way,” Ibrahim said. “But I don’t feel that this means we can’t be friends. We have remained friends, but we just don’t discuss this issue.”

President of the Arab Students Association Dimiana Farag agreed that as long as certain opinions are not proclaimed in her presence, she can
maintain cordial relationships with people of differing viewpoints. But
because she said she is passionate and emotionally connected to the issue, could be hard to maintain a close friendship with students with opposite viewpoints.

Some students have said that since the situation in the Middle East has
escalated recently, they have felt tension rising on campus.

“I have felt a difference recently,” Ibrahim said. “After September 11,
there was an increase in tension, but that was more geared to what was going on in Afghanistan. Now, I do feel like there is a different sort of tension since the recent events with a new focus.”

Stolow said she agrees that tensions have flared at GW.

“On an everyday basis – when you’re just walking down the street and don’t really know who’s on which side – I don’t think there’s much of a difference from before,” Stolow said. “But in certain situations, certain meetings for example when there is a more distinct separation of sides, I have felt like you can tell there is tension.”

Students said disagreement is inevitable on such a divisive issue.

“Because the issue is so sensitive, especially right now, so many people
feel very passionate about it,” Farag said. “Right now, people’s feelings
are so strong regardless of what side they favor.”

Many students have voiced concern about comments and information that are circulating around campus.

Ibrahim said she has heard many offensive comments.

“Though they may not be made directly toward me, they are about my people and do have an indirect effect on me,” she said. “But I don’t always think it’s necessarily people’s fault for making comments. I feel like there are many biases on the news and also sometimes in classrooms that are giving people certain opinions about things.”

Students on both sides of the issue agreed that the best course of action
now for students is to educate themselves as much as possible about the subject. Students have felt that some comments have been made due to ignorance and could be remedied by education.

“Students need to be sensitive to perspectives on both sides,” Stolow said. “Both sides should be seen as valid. Obviously it’s hard to do because everyone is so passionate right now but respect should be given to both ends of the situation.”

Ibrahim believes that an understanding of both perspectives and hearing both sides openly is the best way to approach the issue.

“Debate may raise tension at first, but I think it would ultimately be a
good thing to really listen and try to understand one another,” Ibrahim
said. “If we can’t understand each other here at GW, no one’s going to be able to do it in Israel.”

–Salma Khalil and Adina Matusow contributed to this report.

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