Israel/Palestine conflict brings together diverse group seeking peace
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Jun. 4, 2013
A recent picnic hosted by the Israel/Palestine Peace, Education and Action Group of N.E. Connecticut brought a wide variety of people, from many different walks of life and from many different areas of the state, to Storrs. There were current and retired UConn professors. There were members of the Storrs Friends (Quaker) Meeting, where the group often holds activities. There were current UConn students and recent graduates. There were families and individuals who have emigrated from different parts of the world, including Iran, Serbia, Jordan and Lebanon. All shared a common concern - the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. And all shared a common desire - a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Among those attending was Adam Antar, a member of the recently-formed UConn chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP was formed “after a series of reactions to Operation Pillar of Cloud in November of 2012,” said Antar. Operation Pillar of Cloud was an eight-day Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation in the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, officially launched on Nov. 14, 2012.
According to the Israeli government, the operation began in response to Palestinian groups launching over 100 rockets at Israel over a 24-hour period, an attack on an Israeli military patrol jeep, and a tunnel explosion caused by IEDs. The operation reportedly entailed the striking of more than 1,500 sites within the Gaza Strip, resulting in 133 Palestinian deaths, with an additional 840 Palestinians wounded.
“I believe it was this attack that made the suffering of Palestine a crisis that called for an immediate remedy, and even presented a new perspective on Palestine to people who had never really understood the conflict,” said Antar. Antar said that social justice groups, especially around Central Connecticut State University, began organizing solidarity events in response to the attack.
“What triggered a response by UConn students was a human rights award ceremony which was put on by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization),” said Antar. Antar said that Connecticut peace groups objected to the fact that the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, was scheduled to be one of those honorees. They moved to alert the other nominees. “All of them backed out of the award ceremony upon hearing that Shimon Peres would receive the same award,” said Antar.
UConn students began talking about Palestine and Israel, and were moved to organize SJP, said Antar. “Our goals are simple,” he said. “To educate people about what it means to be Palestinian. To understand that there are people without a homeland, without a citizenship, and living with an occupying force that only exists through explicit imperial expansion.”
Other attendees of the Storrs picnic carry a perspective of imperial regimes based upon personal family history. Connie Sattler, a member of the Friends (Quaker) Meeting in Middletown, left Germany via the Kindertransport in 1939 at the age of 11. She and her 9-year-old sister were taken in by a foster family in England, and not reunited with their parents, who fled to Bolivia, until 1948.
As a Quaker, “I’m for justice and peace, and all those things that these types of groups (Israel/Palestine Peace) stand for,” said Sattler. “I’m Jewish, but I don’t approve of what’s going on between Israel and Palestine.” Sattler pointed to the many Jewish peace organizations which would like to see a solution to the conflict. “The people in the government are behaving almost like Nazis,” she said. “There are many, many Jews who disapprove strongly.” The conflict has been going on for more than 50 years, noted Sattler. “It’s important that people come to a just solution,” she said. All people deserve “room to live, room to worship as you wish,” said Sattler.
George Rawitscher, emeritus physics professor at UConn, left Germany in 1934, at the age of 6, with his parents and 8-year-old sister. Rawitscher’s father, who was on track to become a full professor at the University of Freiburg, was told that because he was Jewish, he no longer had a future there. So his father established the botany department at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
“One thing I remember from Germany as a small child, is looking out the windows to see huge parades with jubilant people. There were banners that said, ‘I will give you bread,’” said Rawitscher. These promises for a better life, made by the Nazi party, “Inspired the German people quite a bit,” said Rawitscher.
A few weeks before the family left, “their friends gave a dinner party for them,” said Rawitscher. They begged them not to leave. “They believed this whole Nazi business would blow over,” said Rawitscher. Had his parents listened to their advice, “they would have been put in concentration camps and been killed, as would I,” said Rawitscher.
Rawitscher believes that his outlook is shaped by a European sense of social responsibility. “Here in the U.S.A., what is more prevalent is the attitude of making money, regardless of how it hurts other people,” said Rawitscher. So often lost is the notion that “the human rights of other people should be respected,” he continued. “That is a very strong feeling that I carry with me all the time. The Nazis had absolutely no respect for the Jewish people.” His involvement in the Isreal/Palestine group is related to the same ideals, said Rawitscher. “I think it is the same desire to protect and respect, especially the Palestinian people, but people in general,” he said.
The Storrs Israel/Palestine Peace Group has two fall events coming up. On Sept. 7 and 8, at the UConn School of Dramatic Arts, actors from the Jenin Refugee Camp's Freedom Theatre will perform. On Oct. 18, also in Storrs, there will be a Tree of Life Conference featuring speakers from Israel and Palestine and Palestinian musicians. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Tree of Life is a non-profit established by The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to provide cross-cultural and transnational travel experiences, interfaith conferences and educational opportunities. For more information about Tree of Life, go to http://www.tolef.org/.