What do Nelson Mandela and the Palestine Liberation Organization have in common? This was the question asked at a forum held last night in the Michigan Union.

The forum, sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, aimed to explore similarities between South African apartheid and the current situation of Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Three SAFE members sat on the panel and urged audience members to push for the University’s divestment from U.S. machinery company Caterpillar Corp. because Israeli Defense Forces used Caterpillar’s bulldozers to tear down houses in an attempt to reduce suicide bombings.

SAFE Chair Fadi Kiblawi, who served on the panel, compared the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to apartheid South Africa. He stressed that Palestinians who left Israel lost land rights and could not return.

He said former South African President Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, Mandela’s anti-apartheid political party, faced many of the same rhetorical attacks and obstacles that the PLO faces under Israeli governance.

Kiblawi, an LSA senior, added that divestment from businesses with South African ties was one of the key forces responsible for the fall of apartheid. He said the University, which divested in 1984, was one of the first universities to do so. “From 1984 to 1986 other universities divested. This led to increasing levels of discourse and outrage (about Apartheid),” Kiblawi said.

Ashraf Zahr, SAFE communications chair, said the IDF’s policy of bulldozing homes is an example of collective punishment. “It punishes civilians for the crimes of others and it is clearly inhumane,” he said. “Are these bulldozers necessary to protect the security of Israel? Obviously not.”

Kiblawi said that since January, more than 800 houses have been demolished. He added that home demolition began in 1967.

University alum Jacob Oslick challenged the arguments of the panel. He said that in order for Israel to effectively protect Jewish interests, it must maintain a Jewish majority, even if this necessitates excluding Palestinians from Israel. “Historically, everywhere in the Arab world Jews are persecuted,” he said. “One of the early justifications for Israel was that it would protect Jews.”

Oslick said his second point was that the forum focused unfairly on Israel. “The history of the world is the history of refugees,” he said. “If (Kiblawi’s) campaign was truly focused on equality and justice, we would divest from almost every country in the world, especially Arab countries,” he said, citing historic persecution of Jews in countries like Libya, Egypt and Iraq.

“Palestinians have to realize there must be a two-state solution,” he said.

Members of the panel said they were pleased Oslick and others brought opposing viewpoints to the forum. SAFE Vice-chair and panelist Carmel Salhi, an LSA sophomore, said he thought the exchange of ideas at the forum was healthy. “There should be people who are pro-divestment and people who are anti-divestment and people who are undecided,” he said. “It’s about education.”

Zahr, an Engineering senior, said he had actually hoped more people opposing divestment had come out, and Kiblawi said an email had gone out inviting those opposing divestment to the forum.

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