In response to a recent uptick in violence in Israel, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine student groups at the University of Maryland plan to host events Monday and Tuesday to address the ongoing bloodshed, representatives said.
About 250 students are expected to gather on McKeldin Mall on Monday at 7:30 p.m. for a vigil commemorating more than 50 people killed in acts of terrorism this month, said Sam Koralnik, president of the Maryland Israel Coalition. Students for Justice in Palestine will also host an educational forum in Jiménez Hall on Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the crisis.
Co-sponsors for Monday night’s event include Terps for Israel, Maryland Hillel, J-Street and the Jewish Student Union, Koralnik said. The Muslim Students Association was also asked to participate, but declined, he said.
“This is a broad, unity-based event that can really bring together a lot of people,” the sophomore government and politics major said. “This vigil is for all those innocent people needlessly murdered or injured in the last few weeks.”
After a period of relative quiet in the region, tensions surged in Israel starting in mid-September following a series of rumors circulating about Israel’s attempt to alter an unwritten agreement with Palestine that was solidified after the Six-Day War in 1967. This arrangement restricts non-Muslim worshipers from praying at the Temple Mount in the Old City, despite its historical and religious significance to both Jews and Muslims.
Supporters of Palestine claim the rumors regarding the amendment of the arrangement fueled the escalation of violence, regardless of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s denial of any plans to relax the decades-old rule.
In total, eight Israelis have died in knife- and gun-related attacks carried out by Palestinians this month, and more than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, according to an NBC News report.
Manar Dajani, a senior business student and co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said Palestinian resistance to oppression accounts for the latest bloodshed.
“People have a right to resist under human rights law,” Dajani said. “A lot of the laws in place do cause a lot of tension. The violence is a direct result to laws that are not being applied equally.”
Dajani said her student group seeks to draw attention to the current laws and social structure in Israel and the ways that the Israeli government and people routinely break them. But voicing a pro-Palestinian opinion on this campus is often met with backlash, she said.
“There’s such a Zionist presence here,” Dajani said. “A lot of pro-Palestinian people feel outcasted here, and a lot don’t really speak up out of fear of being called a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.”
The club, which seeks to educate and promote human rights, has seen a decline in active members over recent years, Dajani said, but she noted its presence on the campus remains vital.
Some students, including those involved in J Street — a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace organization that will co-sponsor Monday’s vigil — are also working toward the promotion of human rights for both Palestinians and Israelis.
“The conflict is incredibly tense, but we have to look at the occupation not as justification for terror but as a root cause of events,” said Liat Deener-Chodirker, a co-president of J Street. “We condemn the terror but want to talk about the conflict with all its nuance.”
Deener-Chodirker, a junior American studies major, said the group’s board members have been sending relevant articles in its listserv emails as a way of engaging students in the current conflict.
“We’re really just concerned for the rise of terror and violence and want to just step back and offer safe spaces for people to talk about it,” Deener-Chodirker said. “It saddens me that there isn’t strong leadership against the status quo, and to end the terror we need to think creatively about what peace looks like … and stand by Israel in a way that isn’t black and white.”
Terps for Israel President Michael Krasna said uniting against the violence in a large group might help to attract more widespread interest in the secular community about the ongoing crisis.
“It’s a scary time,” the junior government and politics major said. “We’re really trying to accommodate all voices and spread the truth. These events are trying to get the whole community together and build a support system to help out the cause.”