Graphic courtesy of Indiana Students Against War

This graphic shows the amount of land the Palestinians have lost to the Israelis since 1946.

About 75 people attended the Indiana Students Against War's (ISAW) first of several planned teach-ins on the IU campus. This four-hour event on Jan. 22 at the Indiana Memorial Union focused on the violence happening in the Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

“The purpose of our gathering is twofold,” moderator Sandrine Emmanuel Catris said when opening the event. “First, we realize that the mainstream U.S. media and politicians have been mis-educating and misleading the U.S. public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The hope was that the teach-in would help everyone better understand that the situation in the Middle-East has nothing to do with a war between Judaism, Islam or Christianity for that matter, but that it has everything to do with colonialism and imperialism, she said.

“Our second goal is to recruit more activists,” Catris continued. “ISAW believes that positive social changes can only happen through activism and the building of a grass-root movement devoted to social justice.”

ISAW member Ed Vasquez said approximately 50 new names and e-mail addresses were added to the ISAW mailing list (ISAWBL@gmail.com) as a result of the teach-in.

“It is encouraging that many people who attended want to be on our mailing list,” he said. “But we will see if our educational efforts result in more people taking it upon themselves to get out in the street and protest what is happening. That is what is needed.”

***

Nazif M. Shahrani, a professor at IU, gave the first presentation. He presented an analysis of world events and concluded that we need to remember our common humanity, and that self-governance is what every nation desires.

"ISAW believes that positive social changes can only happen through activism and the building of a grass-root movement devoted to social justice."
- Sandrine Emmanuel Catris

Shahrani gave a historical analysis of the region of the Middle East and said that what was true when the British Empire was ruling in place of local representation is true today -- Western Powers will not accept self-governance in the Occupied Territories. He cited as an example the fact that Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza, but instead of being recognized, it was treated as a “terrorist organization.”

There were compelling personal testimonies from IU students from Lebanon and Palestine and the United States.

Katrin, who survived the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, told how the fields in Southern Lebanon are littered with cluster bombs that Israel placed after the invasion was ended. She also told how her elderly aunt and uncle were shot dead from short-range gunfire, and how her uncle’s body was mutilated, with signs of torture on his face.

Katrin told how Hezbollah is a social organization and was the only organization to help the people of Lebanon, and that not even the United Nations came to the people's aid when Israel was bombing her land.

“I think they think they are playing a video game,” she said of aerial attacks. She described the “bunker busting” bombs that turn buildings into dust and then sense “where the people are hiding” and destroy any shelter beneath the home.

Ahmad told of growing up in Palestine and how his brother was shot and subsequently imprisoned and tortured for throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers occupying their land. Ahmad told how, at age 5, when he should have been thinking what his next toy would be, or what he would do when he grew up, had made his mind up to go and throw stones.

“Why would I feel this way?” he asked rhetorically and then answered, “Perhaps it was because of the daily humiliation I saw my parents undergo from the Occupation, perhaps because I knew that my mother was not sleeping at night. Instead, she was praying for that my brother, in prison, would someday be released. I remember my father leaning down and trying to relate to me in words I could, as a 5-year-old, understand, and telling me that I must not throw stones, that I must concentrate on my schooling.”

His father borrowed from friends and obtained the release of Ahmad’s brother. “We must break the cycle of violence, and to do that we must allow the Palestinians to have a future of freedom, rather than a future of endless humiliation and checkpoints,” Ahmad concluded.

***

Alexander, a student from the United States, who has relatives in the West Bank, told of his visit to see his cousins.

"We all want to have fun and enjoy life. But enjoying life does not mean that we can ignore reality."
- Jessica Glomb

“I felt that my U.S. Passport would cause the soldiers to treat me and my family with respect,” he said. “However, we had to wait for hours at the checkpoint, and it was disturbing to witness the many Palestinians having to plead with the soldiers to allow them to pass through the checkpoint.

“After when we were allowed to go into the West Bank, our car was stopped, my father was insulted and screamed at, while a rifle was pointed at his head, and I was sitting in the back seat as a soldier had his gun inches from my face. And we have U.S. Passports! My cousins told me that on a daily basis they must endure such humiliation.”

James Cooper spoke of his trip to Israel and showed some photographs. He introduced one striking photo, “Everyone thinks of Bethlehem in the context of the song ‘Oh little town of Bethlehem’” and showed a towering concrete wall, topped with razor wire and machine gun nests.

“This is the entrance to Bethlehem,” Cooper said, “And it is even worse on the inside.”

Cooper also showed a film clip, which was shown on Israeli television, that showed Israeli soldiers entering a home of a Palestinian. When the door was blown off, the wife of the man who lived there was injured. The film showed the man pleading with the soldiers to allow an ambulance to come. The ambulance was not allowed to come, and the woman died. The film showed footage of the children in terror at what was happening.

A woman who said she was from Palestine said, “This happens all the time, and this event shows the soldiers acting better than they did when they destroyed my family’s house. They do not treat us as humans.”

***

The question-and-answer sessions moderated by Sandrine Catris allowed those in attendance to make statements or ask questions. It was a vibrant and moving experience.

"We will see if our educational efforts result in more people taking it upon themselves to get out in the street and protest what is happening."
- Ed Vasquez

One man stated, “This is a good event. Sometimes these types of events have only people who are aware, and it is like ‘preaching to the choir,’ but this event has people coming together to learn, and hopefully act. I hope more of these events take place.”

ISAW member Jessica Glomb said, “I learned a lot. It is not human nature to want to dwell on things that are unpleasant. We all want to have fun and enjoy life. But enjoying life does not mean that we can ignore reality. Our tax dollars are used to make and send the high-tech weapons to Israel. We should be outraged and act accordingly. This teach-in was valuable and, as the last speaker noted, the most important thing to remember is that ‘collective punishment is a war crime’.

“Please put in your article that ISAW meets each Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Ballantine Hall 011 and that all are welcome,” she added.

David Stewart can be reached at daestewa@indiana.edu.