Berkeley Students Rally for Palestine
Loud Protest Eclipses Vigil Supporting Israel






By Liz Garone
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 10, 2002; Page A03

BERKELEY, Calif., April 9 -- The black and white fliers posted on campus here today read, "1942. Poland." They bore photographs of men and children wearing Stars of David on their chests, of blindfolded prisoners, of a mass grave. "Do not let it happen again," they said.

But the fliers were not about the Holocaust. They were a call for a rally by the Students for Justice in Palestine, demonstrating against Israel's assault on Palestinian strongholds in the West Bank and Gaza and seeking to end the University of California's investment in companies doing business with Israel.

Several hundred students and community members gathered at Sproul Plaza for the noon rally. "One, two, three, four. No more aid for Israel's war," they chanted, beneath Palestinian flags and a 15-foot effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Berkeley was one of several campuses across the country where pro-Palestinian protests were staged today -- the anniversary of the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin during the 1948 war for Israel's independence -- in a sign of what appears to be growing student tension over the crisis in the Middle East.

"I find it particularly disgusting that the fliers for the rally were using images of the Holocaust," said Devora Liss, 20, a member of Hillel, the Jewish student center on campus. "The images evoke emotions with a naive student population that might not know any better."

Hillel was holding its own vigil about 50 yards from the Palestinian rally. There, since Monday evening, members had been quietly reading aloud the names of Holocaust victims. Holocaust Remembrance Day, they explained, is set on the Jewish calendar, so it falls on a different day of the Western calendar each year. This year, it was April 9. "It's just an ugly coincidence," Liss said.

Far louder, across Sproul Plaza, was the Palestinian rally, where Jewish participants made a point of making themselves heard. "The preciousness of human life is equal, so my feelings of anguish are not more or less powerful for my ancestors than they are for the innocent people dying in Palestine," said M.C. Ettinger, 26, director of an area nonprofit who is a member of Jews for a Free Palestine and Students for Justice in Palestine.

When Micah Bazant, another member of the latter group, tried to recite a Hebrew prayer of mourning at the microphone, the words were drowned out by students from the Israeli Action Committee, who booed and repeatedly shouted, "Shame."

Among those in attendance at the rally was Sanabel Fararja, 15, a Palestinian who has been stranded in California since the Academy Awards last month. She lives in a refugee camp outside Bethlehem and was featured in the documentary "Promises," which was nominated for an Oscar. "With the intifada going on in my home country, I don't have hopes of peace," Fararja said. "But, seeing this today, I have hope in my heart."

The rally is not the first example of campus tensions over the conflict in the Middle East. On the first night of Passover, anti-Israel slogans were scrawled outside the Hillel center, and a brick was thrown through its glass front door. Its doors, usually wide open, are now locked, and everyone who enters is screened.

Palestinian students also say they have been targeted and called anti-Semitic. "I watch the faces of the people walking by our booth on campus," said Abdul Zahzah, 25, a Palestinian raised in Lebanon now studying mechanical engineering at Berkeley. "They remember the images just after September 11, when the Palestinians were shown celebrating and dancing in the streets. That's who they think we are now with regard to Israel."

Today's rally was no big deal by Berkeley standards and had little in common with the famous protests of the 1960s, philosophy professor John Searle said. "In those days, all students had specific concerns about what was going on in Vietnam and the United States government's responsibility. Today's events only appeal to those people with a commitment to Israel or a commitment to Palestine," he said, pointing out that many participants were not even students.

But he added that today's protest was larger than anything during the Persian Gulf War, when there was no protest movement to speak of at Berkeley.

2002 The Washington Post Company

<< Back