Speaker incites debate on conflicts in Israel

At a fireside Tuesday night about the ongoing riots in Israel, the tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students who were gathered in Willard Residential College mirrored the tensions in the Middle East.

Lisa Acker, deputy director of the Chicago branch of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, spoke to nearly 80 students about Israelis’ perceptions of the media coverage of the recent violence in Israel.

The Israeli army and Palestinian protesters have been fighting in Jerusalem and throughout Israel since Sept. 29. About 90 people, mostly Palestinians, have died in the conflicts.

The fireside was sponsored by the Northwestern Israel Public Affairs Committee, a student group dedicated to raising awareness of Middle Eastern and Israeli issues.

“We wanted to bring somebody pro-Israel to help answer questions about current affairs in the Middle East,” said Medill sophomore Avi Rosenblit, president of NIPAC.

Acker told students that the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, who was pictured on the front page of The New York Times, was tragic, but that Israel was getting the bad end of the public relations deal. The media coverage has unfairly portrayed Israelis as the aggressors and Palestinians as the victims, she said.

But after Acker finished speaking, some students said her views were just as biased as the media’s.

Acker also said PLO leader Yasser Arafat was trying to shift world opinion against Israel by involving children in the protests.

She said Palestinian authorities closed Palestinian schools, bused children to the protests and compensated families $300 for every child injury and $2,000 for every child death.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the violence was orchestrated by Arafat,” Acker said. “He is encouraging people to kill Israeli soldiers and incite violence.”

Despite what Acker called biased media coverage, she said Israelis won’t let negative opinions keep them from protecting their citizens. She said an Israeli once told her, “Israel would rather be unfairly criticized than eloquently eulogized.”

Medill freshman Ari Berman told Acker her speech was an example of the problems that exist in the Middle East.

“Pointing fingers at Arafat or (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak doesn’t help,” he said. “Palestinians have been oppressed by Israel, and that makes them react more extremely to provocation.”

Other students said the Israeli army was using unnecessary force against unarmed Palestinians.

“Even a Jewish human rights organization in Israel said the Israeli army doesn’t use conventional riot techniques adopted by other nations. They have a shoot-to-kill policy against armed and unarmed Palestinians,” said McCormick junior Hisham Zaid, Arab Cultural Society president.

After a heated discussion that caused students to shout to be heard at times, Music freshman Caitlin McKechney said the arguments reminded her of those between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

“Each group has its own opinion, and each group is trying to be louder than the other. They tend not to hear what the other is saying,” she said.

But Rosenblit, the NIPAC president, said he thought the fireside was a success.

“You can’t make peace with a one-sided view,” he said. “The more we understand them, and the more they understand us, the closer we can come to planting the seeds of peace.”