Middle Eastern conflict comes home as Arab students try to raise local consciousness
While the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rages in the Middle East, more peaceful expressions of the frustrations are taking the stage at Chico State University.
On April 11, the General Union of Palestinian Students organized a march from campus to the Downtown Plaza Park, and on Monday, April 15, Muslim students gathered in the Free Speech Area to offer a better understanding of their faith to anyone who would listen.
Khaled Dudin, who organized the march and was the introductory speaker on Monday, told the 50-plus people gathered after the April 11 march that he was “concerned about the deterioration of the situation in this Holy Land that means so much to so many of us.”
Dudin, like other students gathered at the event, has family in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some demonstrators held signs that read, for example, “Did you help kill a Palestinian today? U.S. taxes did.”
The group, punctuated by four men carrying a coffin draped with a Palestinian flag, marched downtown through the Thursday Night Farmers’ Market. It was a peaceful demonstration that Dudin stressed should be kept in the spirit of Chico: orderly and respectful of the community. Many market-goers in the crowded downtown stopped and stared curiously as the procession moved through.
Children followed along, asking, “What’s in there?” and “Is that a coffin?” And, finally, someone launched the inevitable—though in this case misdirected—cliché that the demonstrators “go back to Russia.”
In the downtown park, Dudin and others spoke, while the four pallbearers stood solemnly with their burden. As blossoms fell on the demonstrators, Dudin spoke of the bombs falling on his people in Palestine.
“Do protest killing,” he urged the crowd. “Do show concern.”
Dudin was interrupted by a man who walked through the park and said, “Eff you. How many Jews died today?” The demonstrators assured him that they were there speaking out for all who had died, but Dudin also spoke at length about Israelis who have stood up against the actions of their own government.
Joel Bernstein, a member of the Chico State Jewish community, along with a few other Jewish students, presented Dudin with an Israeli flag and said that, since the demonstration was supposed to be for all who have died in the recent bloodshed, placing both flags on the coffin would be an appropriate gesture. Dudin took the offering and said, “It’s painful for me to stand here holding the Israeli flag, but in order for us to make progress some of us must do painful things.”
On Monday afternoon, Muslim students gathered again with signs and speeches to try to educate other students about their faith. Dudin spoke again, greeting the crowd with the traditional Muslim invocation, “Peace be upon you,” and emphasizing the directive from the Koran that Muslims find a common place of agreement to open dialogue about their faith with others.
Bernstein, who had again come to listen to the Muslim students, said that although he didn’t agree with everything, he said he thought it was good that both sides were making peaceful demonstrations.
“I’m trying to make an effort to understand their point of view,” he said.
Perhaps the most moving of the speakers was economics major Mahde Al Horte, who said that after Sept. 11 he couldn’t even come to class for a week and face his American classmates. Although he’s Moroccan, Al Horte said he “thought it was so shameful that I shared a religion and a culture with these people who did it.”
Alluding to the plight of Palestinians and the strong U.S. support for Israel, he asked, "When my people did it, I felt ashamed. Now I ask the American students ‘will you feel like I felt on Sept. 11?'"