Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel over the weekend followed by retaliatory Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City yesterday have once again polarized segments of the University community over the latest bedlam in the 53-year conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Every time one of these things happens, it”s supposed to remind us we”re all on opposite sides. Instead, it distracts from how many Israelis and Palestinians love one another and are friends with one another,” said Rackham student Greg Epstein, president of Humanistic Huvarah, a student organization dedicated to the values of Jewish culture.
Americans, who now have more of an understanding about what it”s like to experience such horrific devastation at home, are witnessing the biggest flare-up of violence in the Middle East since before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Some students said this could prompt more of a bias against Palestinians.
“More Americans will feel sympathy towards Israel because they were deliberate terrorist attacks rather than army attacks,” said LSA senior Paul Saba, president of the campus Arab-American Anti-Defamation League. But Saba emphasized that despite the militant Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the weekend attacks, there are many Palestinians who feel sympathy for Americans after Sept. 11 because they have been through the same thing.
University students and professors alike had many negative feelings about the events in Israel during the last four days, ranging from outrage to sadness. Most said they believe this has been another setback in the peace process, which has consisted of opportunities of hope, shattered by acts of violence.
“After today, I don”t think there will be peace in our time,” said Medical student Matt Holtzman, a member of the Hillel Governing Board.
There was very little optimism on campus yesterday about the prospects of peace. Near Eastern studies Prof. Yaron Eliav said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s conservative policies have not produced fruitful results.
“We could have had a solution 12 months ago, but now we”re as far away as possible,” Eliav said.
In addition, many people blame Yasser Arafat for not being assertive enough with militant Palestinians. But some say that it is not an easy thing to do with such a divided nation.
“Palestinians are not one monolithic entity who can control these terrorists,” said Rackham student Aiman Mackie.
While most people agree both sides have been at fault in the conflict, there are some who feel Israel”s retaliatory attack on Gaza yesterday was understandable while unjustified. This represents the paradox of politics in the Middle East where violence can sometimes be the only road to peace.
“I don”t know if violence is the alternative at all, but Israel does have to defend itself,” Holtzman said.
Just as President Bush has said America”s freedom and resolve were tested on Sept. 11, this weekend”s attacks have put Israel in a similar position.
“The test of democracy is not so much how it functions in times of relative calm but how it behaves when under attack,” said Michael Brooks, executive director of Hillel.
Eliav said Americans must separate the tragedies of this weekend from the tragedies of Sept. 11, and look at the recent situation more rationally.
“Awareness should be played more as a sophisticated understanding of war,” he said.