While some students headed to the bars to down pitchers of green beer Saturday, others headed to Pierpont Commons to draw attention to what Steve Sosebee, founder of the Palestinian Children”s Relief Fund, said is the “most extreme level of oppression” the Palestinian people face from the state of Israel.
“Education and Empowerment,” was the theme of the Conference on Palestine. During the first part of the conference, which consisted of four simultaneous sessions on specific topics, approximately 500 participants were provided with basic information about the conflict. Speakers focused on Jerusalem, the Palestinian right of return, Zionism, the United States” role and past peace-making efforts.
The second part of the conference was designed to give the audience an idea of its role in the conflict. Speakers lectured on political lobbying, media activism, grassroots and campus efforts and relief work.
“Basically this is a way for people to learn about the situation and find out what they can do once they have learned,” said LSA sophomore Sameer Hossain, who helped plan the conference.
“Even though this problem has been around for a while this is a relatively new issue … being publicized on campuses and in the media in general,” he said.
Rackham graduate student Idris Elbakri, who chaired the event, said he and other students wanted to respond to the feeling of helplessness in the local Palestinian community, especially since the outbreak of the current violence and failed peace talks.
The event was the first of its kind at the University.
“We hope to do it again,” Elbakri said. “I think the fair was a great success.”
“This kind of conference is timely especially in light of the Palestinian popular uprising against the Israeli occupation of their land,” Turaani said.
The conference gave people statistics and facts to reinforce their ideas, SNRE junior Norah Rabiah said. “So many people feel a certain way, but they don”t have the facts to back up their feelings.”
LSA sophomore Nada Abu-Isa said she appreciated the empowerment section of the event because it gave people an idea of what they could do. Knowledge of the situation alone can leave people with a feeling of frustration, but the empowerment sessions gave people a sense of direction, she said.
“Don”t just sit on your hands. It”s our duty and our obligation to help them I think,” Sosebee said. Sosebee stressed that people in America can have a role in providing aid to Palestinians, however small. “If you have money but no time, give money. If you have time but no money, give time.”
“If you don”t do it, who”s going to do it?” asked speaker David Sole. He credited the efforts of grassroots campaigns with drawing attention to the situation and opening up dialogue on issues where there was none a few years ago.
“I count that as a success,” he said.
Sole cautioned that the campaigns were only a first step.
“We need a mass movement and we can”t do it with a handful of people,” he said.
Letters to congressional representatives are another way of showing support and working to change the situation, Turaani said.
Visual images were present along with speakers at the conference.
“Innocence Under Seige,” an art exhibit featuring the drawings of Palestinian children in Jerusalem, was incorporated into the event. The pictures reflected the childrens” reactions to the recent violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Some showed stone-throwing Palestinians facing Israeli soldiers with machine guns, while several depicted the death of 12-year-old Mohammed Jamal Aldura, who was caught in the middle of a skirmish and was allegedly killed by Israeli bullets last year while his father tried to shield him.
A fair including organizations dealing with Palestinians through relief, aid or other means also accompanied the sessions.