Israeli-Palestinian conflict inspires protests, vigil in Raleigh, faculty statement
Hundreds of community members gathered in downtown Raleigh last week to protest the Israeli army airstrikes and artillery fire in Gaza.
Over 1,000 demonstrators gathered on May 15 and over 300 gathered on May 18 in remembrance of the lives lost. The 11-day conflict has left at least 230 people dead – including at least 60 children – and ended in a ceasefire on Friday.
The protest was held in commemoration of Nakba Day, which is observed in remembrance of the displacement of Palestinians after Israeli independence from British rule.
Nadia Yaqub is a professor in the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Department at UNC and attended last week’s protest. She said that “nakba” means “catastrophe” in Arabic and that the Arabs call the 1948 war “Nakba” because it was a catastrophe for the Palestinians.
Nadeen Atieh, a rising junior at UNC and a member of the Arab Students Organization and the Muslim Students Association, attended the protest to help raise awareness of the conflict.
Atieh’s parents are Palestinian refugees, so she said that she has been deeply involved in this struggle all her life and that she knows people who have lost loved ones in Palestine to violence.
She said the conflict was a human rights issue, and she noticed that people from different backgrounds and communities came together to support the Arab community during the protest.
“It shouldn’t be just one group of people carrying the weight,” she said. “If you care about human rights or have protested at the Black Lives Matter protest, you should stand up against the oppression that is happening now.”
Vigil for the Palestinians
More than 300 people gathered at NC State University’s Stafford Commons on May 18 to mourn the Palestinians who have died in the conflict. Seena Arafat and Lynn Zitawi, president and vice-president of the NC State Arab Student Organization, hosted the vigil.
Zitawi and Arafat both have family in Palestine and have decided to hold a vigil instead of a rally or protest so that they can mourn, pray as a community and have a safe space for those who are have lost loved ones.
“Many of our members in our community are suffering, many of them have lost family members,” Arafat said. “Many of them wake up with anxiety every day thinking that one of my other cousins is going to die today. I wanted to do the vigil to show that we are united and that we are all there for each other.
The participants held candles and Arafat and Zitawi wrote down the names of the deceased children. Arafat said people who lost loved ones were able to give speeches at the end of the vigil.
“All of those martyrs who had their lives taken were people, not just numbers on death tolls,” Zitawi said. “This vigil has really helped people understand the children and parents who have lost their lives.”
Statewide faculty statement
Yaqub, along with Rebecca Stein, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, and Elyse Crystall, associate professor at UNC, co-hosted a faculty statement condemning recent Israeli attacks on historic Palestine.
More than 300 faculty members from 23 North Carolina colleges and universities have signed the declaration. Yaqub said in an email that the signatories included faculty from liberal arts and professional schools at UNC, including schools of law, medicine, public health, social work, education. and trade.
Yaqub said she believed the statement represented solidarity, and Stein said she was amazed at the level of support she received.
“It inspired Palestinians on the ground,” Yaqub said. “To know in this very difficult time, there are hundreds of people, in one state, who care enough to sign a declaration like this.
“This is an unprecedented type of coalition given its scale, the diversity of faculty participation, the diversity of institutions and departments that are represented,” she said. “What this tells us is that the US vision for Palestine is changing – the American public is ready for a change in the status quo when it comes to unconditional support for Israel.”
Stein said she believed there was a similarity between Palestinian and American social justice efforts – a sentiment also acknowledged in the statement. She said she believed the struggle for justice in Palestine was similar to the struggle of racial and indigenous groups in the United States.
History of the conflict
The discord between Israel and the Palestinian territories is not new, Yaqub said.
“The problem with the Middle East is the product of anti-Semitism in Europe,” she said. “The Jews of Europe felt that they could no longer live among other Europeans and felt that they needed to create their own state.”
Yaqub said when tensions escalated, some Jews fled to Palestine – the site of ancient Israel. Because Jewish immigration quotas existed in Britain and the United States, Palestine was one of the few places they could go, she said.
At the time, Palestine was under British rule, which resulted in unequal treatment, Yaqub said.
“The Jews were Europeans – they looked European, they acted like Europeans,” Yaqub said. “So there was an immediate affinity between the Jewish immigrants and the British ruling Palestine. While the Arabs were another people, another culture, another language. They were considered barbarians and treated that way.
Yaqub said Zionism – a movement that called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine – was present during this time. She said the unequal treatment between Palestinians and Zionists has led to tensions in the region.
Complications escalated when Britain pledged independence for Arab residents in return for support during World War I, Yaqub said. The British subsequently retracted this agreement and decided to go ahead with the creation of a Jewish state.
“They were very upset (with) the idea of creating a Jewish state because they are not Jews,” Yaqub said. “So that wouldn’t be their condition.”
The establishment of Israel left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes, she said. Israel has militarily occupied historic Palestine since 1967.
Yaqub said that Palestinians today are not considered citizens and are governed by different rules than Israeli citizens.
‘We have a duty to understand Palestine’
Stein said she encourages the public to go beyond the mainstream media and learn more about the experience of the Palestinians.
“Their daily struggles are easy to forget if you just focus on the dominant perspectives,” Stein said.
Yaqub said students can take action by joining and creating activist groups.
“We have a duty to understand Palestine,” she said.
Students can also get involved by taking related courses, Yaqub said. She said she also encouraged UNC professors to integrate Palestinian history into their curriculum.
While some may feel powerless because they cannot directly help Palestinians, Atieh said, people can still show their support for the Palestinian community in the United States and spread the word nationally.
Atieh said the UNC and colleges in general should do more to raise awareness of the conflict and violence against Palestinians.
“They should try to gain support,” Atieh said. “Just because it’s happening outside of the United States doesn’t mean you can pull away.”
To receive daily news and headlines delivered to your inbox every morning, sign up for our email newsletters.