March 04, 2009
In February, the Society for a Just Peace in Palestine (SJP) at Rollins held a panel discussion in response to Israel’s assault on Gaza that began in December 2008.
Titled “Understanding Gaza,” the forum was created in an effort to spread awareness as well as foster understanding about the issue in the spirit of “global citizenship.” The event drew a crowd of more than 300 people from Rollins and the surrounding community and lasted nearly two hours, including an hour-long question and answer session.
“Our purpose was twofold: to engage the campus in meaningful discussion about the events, and to ensure that people do not rely solely on biased media for their information,” said Fatema Kermalli, president of SJP.
The seven members of the panel were diverse – ranging from a former member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), to a local Rabbi, to a Jewish advocate for peace in the region. The diversity was no mistake. “Our hope was simply to balance the views that would be presented because the only way to find the truth is to listen to both sides of the story,” explained Kermalli. The group’s choice of panelists was applauded by the moderator, Associate Professor of Political Science Joan Davison, said, “The students should be commended for sponsoring panelists who seek solutions.”
Some spectators, however, felt that the event did not allow enough expression from members of the audience. “It’s healthy to have the discussion, but I felt it was censored too much,” said one attendee who wishes to remain anonymous.
Even though emotions ran high, the event was viewed by the organizers as a good beginning for a larger, community-wide discussion on the conflict. “There are a lot of people who are extremely passionate about this issue, and will understandably become enraged by certain statements,” said Alia El-Assar, a member of SJP. “While it may have been somewhat disrespectful, take notice to the fact that the same people who had outbursts during the presentations were the people to stay after and talk rationally with the same panelists they spoke against.”
The Society for a Just Peace in Palestine was founded last semester in order to encourage discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The group hopes to sponsor more events similar to this one in the future, and is currently looking into a number of ideas including informal discussions, documentary screenings, teach-ins, speakers, and Palestinian cultural events.
By Nic Ramos-Flores (Class of 2012)