In a wide-ranging discussion sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality at the Michigan Union last night, panelists Amer Zahr and Thom Saffold reflected upon the Palestinian Intifada and encouraged students to work to redefine the public’s understanding of the Palestinian struggle.

Both panelists took issue with the framing of the Palestinian struggle in the mainstream American media and said that important issues require a more involved explanation than the media takes time to give.

“We need to avoid the trap of the sound-bite battle,” Zahr said.

Saffold, a civil rights instructor in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, encouraged students to make a historical connection between the Intifada and the American Civil Rights movement. Saffold said that a similar connection had motivated many Americans to protest South African policies in the ’80s and contributed to Apartheid’s dismantling. Saffold said the plight of many Palestinians justified a similar response today.

“I visited South Africa during the ’80s at the height of Apartheid and have visited the West Bank recently and Palestinians today live in conditions worse than South Africans did then,” Saffold said.

Audience members questioned whether non-violent protest would prove successful in the occupied territories, noting that previous boycotts and tax resistance had accomplished little.

“Violent resistance is probably the only way to effect change in Israeli policy. Colonial societies never give up land for benevolent reasons … either economic necessity or violent resistance forces them out,” Zahr said. “The most likely way to end occupation is to make the Israeli people suffer enough so that they begin to question the need for continuing the occupation.”

Zahr also responded to criticism of the ongoing campaign for the University to divest from Israel.

“Israel’s economy would not crumble due to corporate divestment. They have a first world economy and receive large amounts of American foreign aid,” he said.

“Divestment is also not anti-Semitic. Zionism is anti-Semitic because it essentializes Jews. Many Jews do not support Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people,” Zahr added.

Zahr spoke of the need for greater communication across religious and ethnic lines, saying that some students who support Israeli policies have very little social contact with Palestinian students.

“Many supporters of Israeli policies simply don’t understand the day-to-day struggle of the Palestinian people.”

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