Like so many people across the world and at this university I was appalled by the actions recently taken by the Israeli government in Gaza. I believed that it was my duty to defend the people of Gaza against what was an illegal and disgraceful bombardment. As a result I attended marches in my home town and decided to join the meeting held on Tuesday evening at the university.
The number of students who attended the talk and subsequent discussion amazed me and I was relieved that so many students agreed with me that what was happening in Gaza was unjust and that something had to be done. I was also relieved that Dr. Tamimi, an author on the subject of the conflict and outspoken supporter of Hamas, was allowed to speak.
Although I do not support the Hamas regime in Gaza I thought that his contribution was valuable and helpful in understanding the situation. What I was not so relieved to discover, however, was the support that the students gave him regarding the actions of Hamas which include the targeting of innocent Israeli civilians.
Whilst it is certainly true that the number of innocent civilians killed by Hamas rockets is far less than the number of innocent civilians killed by Israeli bombs, less than 10 to approximately 1300 since the conflict
began on the 27th December, no action aimed at civilians can ever be justified in the fight for freedom. Even the speaker from the Stop the War coalition seemed to advocate the use of indiscriminate violence against Israelis. This surprised me as I consider them to be a pacifist organisation.
When this point was made by a member of the meeting, she was met by an aggressive and intimidating rebuttal from a number of people including Dr. Tamimi himself. This was also the case for a number of others who made valuable contributions throughout the meeting, not just on the use of violence but also on the format of the meeting and the bias of the speakers who were invited to talk.
It seemed that any person who held a position, other than that demonstrated by the speakers, and who condemned the use of violence was not allowed to have that opinion in that room. The meeting reached a point where one member stood and argued that any individual who did not support Hamas would not be welcome to demonstrate with the activists in any subsequent action. This instantly alienated me and made me feel that to support a group of oppressed people I had to instantly support their government.
I was also upset at some of the language used during the meeting. By this I mean the constant comparisons drawn between the plight of the Palestinians and the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. Considering the circumstances I found this grossly inappropriate. Some of the language used also bordered on anti-Semitism with one speaker talking of a conspiracy involving Zionists around the world. This to me didn’t seem to far away from the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, a Nazi propaganda tool used to convince people that there was a Jewish conspiracy controlling the globe. Again, when one speaker brought this up he was swiftly told that he did not fully understand the situation.
Whether this was true or not his point was a good one. He argued that in order to succeed in any action the support of a much wider group was required and that with the use of language such as ‘Holocaust’ people would be alienated by what they saw as extremism. His point was well supported by the number of empty seats at the end of the meeting as opposed to the start.
My support is solely with the Palestinian people which, for me, involves their right to defend themselves against attack. What I do not support is the indiscriminate violence shown by both sides against civilians.
I will continue to support the on campus protests because I believe they continue to stand for a free Palestine, something that I believe strongly in. I cannot, though, ever condone violence against innocent people and the sooner that the protesters realise this the sooner they will widen their appeal to students of differing opinions.