Members of the group Students for Justice in Palestine adorned University Yard with more than 1,000 flags Monday afternoon to draw attention to the lives lost in the Gaza conflict this past winter.
The student organization planted 1,330 red and orange flags to represent Palestinian deaths and nine blue flags for Israeli lives lost in the conflict.
SJP is a pro-Palestinian organization, but does not take an official stance in the Middle East conflict.
“We are not anti-Israel,” said SJP President Sophia Aziz. “We really just want to bring attention to the human rights aspect of what’s happening and show that it’s not just about politics – there are human lives at stake.”
The controversial display also drew some criticism.
“A woman came up and asked what the flags were about and when we told her, she said, ‘Oh, so you’re against Israel.’ But we really try to avoid being associated with that kind of view. Just because we want justice in Palestine doesn’t mean we’re against anyone else. It doesn’t have to be exclusive,” Aziz said.
GW Acting Politically for Israel, a pro-Israeli student group, said the display was misleading. GAP said in a written statement that the display ignored six months of Hamas attacks on Israel between June and December 2008 in which over 6,000 rockets and mortars were fired into Gaza, then occupied by Israel.
“We welcome fair criticism of Israel,” the group said in a statement. “Accusations of Israeli genocide, apartheid and racism are lies designed to hurt and intimidate us . We are upset to see the very defamation and incitement that perpetuates the Arab-Israeli conflict appear at GW.”
SJP has worked with the Jewish Student Association and the Student Alliance for Israel in discussions and events concerning the Middle East.
“We encourage working together because that’s exactly what needs to be done. That’s the only way to accomplish peace and justice,” said SJP member Saud Inam, a sophomore.
SJP members said the opposition from some pro-Israeli individuals and groups shows that the conflict is too politicized, and their aim is to humanize their differences.
“Each flag represents someone’s life, someone’s life that was lost and it’s the justice aspect that we want to bring out. We need to keep in mind that these are people, mostly women and children, and we want there to be peace,” Aziz said.
Although SJP activity died out last year, it made a comeback this year as violence erupted along the Gaza Strip. Aziz said its goals are to highlight injustices in Palestine, raise money for registered relief and education programs and to engage in informed dialogue for Middle East peace and justice.