Palestinian supporters at the University joined with students at college campuses nationwide in calling for universities to withdraw support for Israel. Demonstrations at more than 30 other universities took place yesterday.
“It’s time for the world to open their eyes and see how oppressive Israel really is and see the real brutality,” LSA junior Brenda Abdelall said. Abdelall added that she has many close friends in Israel who are under siege by Israeli forces in Palestinian territories.
Demonstrators stood on the steps of the Michigan Union with gags in their mouth and their hands tied to symbolize the Palestinians’ suffering in the Mideast.
One demonstrator silently stood in just his underwear, blindfolded and gagged holding a sign which read, “I am one of tens of Palestinians who were asked to strip naked by the Israel army, lie on their stomachs, then taken to an unknown location.”
Yesterday was significant for both Israelis and Palestinians because it was Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 54th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, when Israeli forces killed more than 100 Palestinian villagers during the struggle to form an independent Israeli state.
The demonstration met opposition by several Jewish students. Rackham student David Wolkinson shouted, “Where’s the terrorist bombers?” at the group of demonstrators.
“This is ridiculous,” Wolkinson said. “I’m not trying to say one side is evil and one side is good – this is just misrepresentation of what is going on.”
Wolkinson later agreed to have an open debate with Palestinian supporters.
Spokesman for Students Allied for Freedom and Equality Fadi Kiblawi, an LSA junior, said the demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign to end U.S. universities’ financial support for corporations that supply Israel with weapons or have facilities on Israeli territory, such as Boeing and Hewlett Packard.
“We’re kicking off the national campaign for all college campuses to divest from Israel. We’re one of over 30 schools that demonstrated today,” Kiblawi said.
Other schools held similar protests yesterday, including the University of California at Berkley, Harvard University, Georgetown University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Kiblawi said.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said it is unlikely that the University will meet the protesters’ requests and end its relationship with corporations tied to Israel.
“The University rarely modifies their investments around political issues,” Peterson said. “Only after sustained and widespread concern is expressed across the campus community would the (University Board of Regents) consider setting up a committee to evaluate divestiture in a specific area of our investment.”
There have only been two times in history when the University’s financial policies were altered because of political reasons – in response to apartheid in South Africa and tobacco companies.
Abdelall said yesterday’s protest was unique because more attention has been placed on the region recently.
“More and more people are starting to question things. We have a lot more protesters here, we have a lot more people stopping and asking questions. People are starting to see through the media, they are starting to see through all the biases,” she said.