Gaza Group Protests Though Art

As members of one campus group protested the recent military action in Gaza, they asked Columbia students to give them a hand in spreading awareness—literally.

In the fourth consecutive day of Gaza-related activism, campus group Columbia University Stands with Gaza held an interactive art activity called “Art Against the Occupation” yesterday at noon on the steps of Low Library.

Group members asked passers-by to sign red paper hands that they distributed with the names of Palestinians who have died in the attacks since Dec. 28, 2008. Participants then pinned the paper hands on a large canvas. Group members said their goal was to get 1,300 people to place red hands on the canvas, representing the number of Palestinian causalities. The group also handed out flyers to expose “myths about the occupation” and other pieces of information regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Even as we remember last month’s massacre in Gaza, we want to emphasize that it is the product of an ongoing brutal occupation in Palestine,” Rahel Aima, a member of Students for a Democratic Society and CC ’10, explained.

Columbia University Stands with Gaza, a newly formed group that consists of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty, and that has no identifiable leadership, has held two rallies since Monday in addition to Thursday’s event.

The first rally—which they called a “silent hour on Gaza”—was held at Low Library steps on Monday after the group was denied access to the Sundial because LionPAC, a nonpartisan pro-Israel group, had already reserved the space for its own rally. The Gaza group moved their originally planned rally at the Sundial to Tuesday. The event featured a series of speeches given by students, faculty, and members from outside political groups.

As group members reflected on the days’ past events, they agreed that they have made inroads in spreading awareness across campus. “We’ve been doing a good job this week keeping things in the public eye,” Aaron Winslow, GSAS, said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of support, and I think there’s also a lot of support below the surface. I have seen almost completely positive reception.”

Yet group members don’t agree on everything, a fact that they attribute to their coalition’s wide-ranging constituency, which encompasses students from a number of campus groups. They disagree on several fundamental issues, including future interactions with other campus political groups that have different beliefs.

“I don’t know what dialogue would do,” Suzanne Motwaly, president of the Muslim Students Association and CC ’09, said of opening up discourse with LionPAC. “I’m not optimistic that any dialogue would take place. They have their own perspective, we have our own perspective. Talking will not change anything.”

Others disagree, asserting that the goal is, in fact, to begin dialogue with groups like LionPAC. “It would be great to have constructive dialogue,” Darryl Wilkinson, GSAS, said. “We’ve been talking about having a co-sponsored event with LionPAC, maybe getting speakers from each group to talk.”

Still, others feel that establishing a rapport with LionPAC should not even be a concern. “Our issue is not a matter of a relationship with LionPAC,” Winslow said. “Talking about us and LionPAC is a facile equation.”

The coalition prides itself on the diverse opinions its members hold, a strength that helps it attach more people than could more narrowly defined groups. For this reason, it is not looking to become a University-recognized group.

“That would defeat the purpose of what we’re doing,” Kate Heupel, GSAS, said of becoming an official campus group. “There wouldn’t be as much draw. This allows people to come together. There’s a lot of nuance in our group.”

But while members have no plans of making their group official, they do have plans in store for the next few months. They are considering holding a debate on possible solutions to the conflict and starting a boycott-divestment-sanctions campaign aimed to pressure Israel “to stop Israeli genocide in Gaza,” according to the campaign’s official Web site.


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