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A student group’s demonstration for Palestinian solidarity was defaced last week, fueling tensions over Gaza Awareness Week.
Last Monday, Students for Justice in Palestine constructed a display on campus of 1,413 paint stirrers in commemoration of those who lost their lives during Israel’s military campaign in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — known as Operation Cast Lead — in December 2009. By the next morning, however, the display had been vandalized and the stirrers thrown into the trash.
Faris Shalan, vice president of SJP and fourth-year environmental studies major, said the memorial recognized the lives of victims on both sides of the conflict.
“The display used internationally recognized figures and mourned both Israeli and Palestinian deaths, yet by Tuesday it was vandalized, taken apart and thrown in the trash,” Shalan said.
SJP president and third-year Middle East studies major Giselle Garcia said Gaza Awareness Week was discriminated against on three specific occasions.
“We had one of our signs covered, denouncing our own, in the Stroke Tower roundabout, fliers being passed out by ASI members counteracting our own and finally the demolishing of the memorial we spent 11 hours in creating,” Garcia said.
Garcia said SJP feels that the demolishment was an arbitrary act by American Students for Israel members, a view that was shared by others in SJP.
“We respect to the voice of free speech, but for people to take down our displays and denouncing our free speech is unfair,” Garcia said. “Other groups can put up their displays, but in doing so they don’t need to take down ours.”
However, ASI president Noa Yaari said none of the members of ASI were involved in the sabotage.
“While we are saddened by the recent damage to a display prepared by Students for Justice in Palestine, we are disturbed that SJP has leveled unsubstantiated allegations that ASI caused this damage,” Yaari said. “We and our members did not cause this damage, and we condemn those who did.”
Saleh Abdulla, co-president of the Olive Tree Initiative, also said blaming ASI is unjustified.
“Even if it is shown that an ASI member vandalized the memorial, it still cannot be said that ASI is responsible — an entire organization cannot be held accountable for the acts of one individual,” Abdulla said. “I have talked with the president of ASI, and she is adamant that her group does not condone such actions.”
The Olive Tree Initiative is an organization dedicated to establishing peace between Israel and Palestine.
On Monday, UCSB Campus Left — a leftist, anti-capitalist collective of UCSB students — released a letter to the campus community raising concern over the acts of intimidation perpetrated against Students for Justice in Palestine. The letter was addressed to Chancellor Henry T. Yang, Division of Student Affairs, Associated Students and American Students for Israel.
Garcia said SJP requests that the UCSB Division of Student Affairs and Associated Students investigate the matter.
“We ask that ASI and other students supporting the policies of the Israeli state respect freedom of speech on the UCSB campus,” Garcia said. “We hope ASI can publicly denounce what happened.”