Palestinian Panel Talks About Gaza Strip Crisis
April 12, 2005 7:54 PM
A panel of Palestinian students, in an effort to spread awareness about the Israeli occupation of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, encouraged students to get involved with the peace process at SF State on Tuesday.
The event, called “Education Under Occupation: Students From Gaza Report,” was organized by SF State’s chapter of Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace, an American-based network of university faculty striving for peace between Israel and Palestine.
The panel was part of a series of appearances by the Palestinian students at universities across the nation, including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and UC
Berkeley. The students’ goal is to spread awareness about the actual state of affairs in regions such as the Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians live in poverty and oppression, group members said.
The territories have a long, divisive history of religious and territorial conflict over Jewish claims to the territories as part of the land given to them by God, and Palestinian claims to the lands of their former nation.
Three Palestinian students spoke on the panel: Hekmat Bessiso, Adel Elghoul, and Iyad Abuhajjaj, the group’s translator. The program consisted of a one-hour lecture, where each of the three students spoke individually about life in Occupied Territories, followed by a 30-minute question and answer session. About 100 SF State students were in attendance, some as part of a class assignment and some of their own accord.
The Gaza Strip is a heavily Palestinian region about twice the size of Washington D.C. sandwiched between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. The Gaza Strip is 45 minutes away from the West Bank, but travel between the two is difficult due to Israeli checkpoints and security requirements, said the students.
“The Gaza Strip is the biggest prison in the world,” said Bessiso, describing the hardships and limitations that many Palestinians face.
The delegation of Palestinian students told vivid stories about their struggle and their frustration and feelings of helplessness.
Adel Elghoul told a story about being arrested and tortured by Israeli police as a teenager for peacefully demonstrating Israeli occupation. Israeli police held a large pair of scissors in front of him and threatened to cut of his genitals, Elghoul said.
Translator Abuhajjaj said that many times he was forced to dress like a woman to get through checkpoints to attend school.
“Our life is full of struggle,” said Abuhajjaj. “If I had a peaceful month, I would be surprised. I would think something was wrong. This is our true life, but nobody knows or hears about it.”
Bessiso said U.S. media only gives America “half the news,” and makes Americans “comfortable” with Israeli policy, despite its tendency to “take much and give less.”
“We are here to be in touch, student to student,” said Bessiso, “We wish for a future where we arrive at a solution to end occupation.”
SF State psychology major Noma Smith, 18, attended the lecture and said she found it to be an “eye-opening experience.”
“I think it was a really good presentation,” said Smith. “I learned a lot of things I didn’t know or ever expect to know about these issues, and it makes me want to go (to the occupied territories) just to be there and to help.”
Although there was one heated moment towards the end during the question and answer period, the panel was neutral, with Palestinian students making it clear that they were “pro-Israel and pro-Palestine” and that “no hatred exists” despite their differences.
SF State French major Nadia Rosenberg, 19, is an Israeli student at SF State.
“It was worthwhile and it was very interesting for an Israeli to hear the Palestinian perspective,” said Rosenberg. “I learned a lot about the other side and that’s important because you can’t always just think about your own side.“
Rana Lee is a Jewish studies major and wasn't happy with the students' presentation. "They spent three quarters of the time talking about how they suffer," said Lee, 68. "I know that. I'm against the way they're treated, but I wanted to know what they are doing about it."
SF State English professor Beverly Voloshin, the moderator for the panel, and said she was pleased with the presentation after its close.
“We were very fortunate to have this opportunity to hear from these students,” said Voloshin. “We don’t get very much news from Gaza, so this was an opportunity to hear from those students who are well informed and students had an opportunity to ask questions, I am very pleased that we were able to do it.”
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