Die-in sparks discourse on Arab-Israeli conflict at UCF
Students for Justice in Palestine held its first die-in protest at the University of Central Florida on Wednesday, April 6.
Shortly after noon, UCF students bearing handmade signs laid on a grassy area outside the John T. Washington Center. They remained motionless to demonstrate how Israel's alleged occupation of the West Bank affects Palestinians.
Freshman Noa Tann, 19, held a cardboard sign that read, "Proud Israeli for Justice! In Palestine." Tann said her heritage makes it imperative for her to be involved in organizations such as SJP.
"The actions of the [Israeli] government and the Israel Defense Forces have often been very destructive and very oppressive to Palestinian people," Tann said. "That's something I wish more of the Jewish movement in the U.S. would acknowledge, because then we could love Israel in a way that is more accurate to the truth-in a way that is more compassionate to human lives."
Attacks on the pro-Palestine movement, as put by Tann, stem from the misconception that supporters are anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. She said the youth who attended her American-Jewish summer camp, which she has been involved with for the last 11 years, largely refrained from acknowledging the truth about the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
"I've seen in the American-Jewish movement, specifically in the [Union for Reform Judaism], a lot of uncritical, unconditional love and acceptance of Israel," Tann said. "I am from Israel. All of my family is there. I love the country. I love my people. I love my culture. However, I think in the same way you can be a proud American and criticize the actions of our government and our army, you can do the same with Israel."
Five Knights for Israel (KFI) members stood beside the nine SJP members participating in the die-in. They held vibrantly colored signs containing phrases such as, "Teach Peace, Not Lies" and "Not Down for the D: Delegitimization, Double Standards, Demonization."
Students on both sides remained silent until KFI member and UCF sophomore Yair Bengio asked the SJP students what they wanted to free Palestine from, referring to the handful of signs that read, "Free Palestine."
His question prompted members from both organizations to begin engaging with one another in a passionate yet civilized debate.
The die-in was part of SJP's second annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which Rezwan Haq, a UCF junior and former SJP member, chaired last year. Haq said after researching the Arab-Israeli Conflict in more depth, he chose to leave SJP at the end of his sophomore year and join KFI in August.
"I feel that people in SJP and pro-Palestinian groups are quick to blame the Israeli government rather than hold Palestinian leadership accountable," Haq said. "Until we hold Palestinian leadership accountable, we won't see any peace in the region."
Haq said the situation that unfolded at the heart of campus was not reflective of a peaceful dialogue, but an argument geared toward confronting ideas.
"Where is that going to take us?" Haq said. "If we don't come to a mutual understanding with each other about what we really want, we'll keep blaming each other for something that's been going on for years."
SJP president and psychology major Elissa Zapata, 22, said her organization wanted to hold a peaceful action to raise awareness about Palestinian human rights issues.
"We don't really see anything past Israel's side of the story," Zapata said. "We definitely want to advocate for Palestine's side of the story, because it's something that needs to be heard."
The UCF senior said she believed that the passionate conversations between SJP and KFI members were accomplishing little if nothing at all. However, KFI vice president Nitzan Goodman, 29, said it was a beneficial experience for the two groups because it prompted verbal communication.
Animated students from both KFI and SJP engaged in civil discourse for nearly three hours, something that Goodman said he had never seen during his four years at UCF.
"People just started talking, and I was very happy to see it," Goodman said. "I spoke with many Muslim students, some were actually from Palestine or had family from Palestine."
Goodman, who was born in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nir Yitzchak, served in the infantry brigade of the IDF before enrolling at UCF. He said his experiences in Israel helped frame his conversations with the students on Wednesday.
"Dialogue is healthy. But hearing their side made me realize just how far we are from some sort of agreement," Goodman said.