Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hundreds march through University of Michigan campus, demanding divestment from Israel--

Click on photo to enlarge it.

The photo shows a July 2006 rally for divestment against Israel, on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus.

A contemporary article from the "Michigan Daily" is quoted below:


"Diag stage for anti-violence rally:

"Community members protest Israel's military aggression in Lebanon"

About 250 community members, students and faculty members gathered on the Diag Saturday afternoon in a rally against Israel's military actions in Lebanon.

As speakers began to give personal accounts of relatives in Lebanon, supporters and families wearing red, green and white - the national colors of Lebanon - slowly trickled into the crowd.

"It's extremely easy for people to forget about injustices happening oceans away," said Shimaa Abdelfadeel, an organizer of the rally and political chair of the Muslim Students' Association.

Abdelfadeel said the Lebanese perspective has not been equally covered in the media. "The event was more of an educational demonstration than anything," she said.

Today marks the 13th day of violence between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

The conflict began when Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers.

Calling the action an act of war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded by sending planes to bomb Hezbollah camps in southern Lebanon.

The Washington Post estimates that at least 375 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 36 Israelis - including 17 civilians - have been killed since the conflict began.

President George W. Bush has not called for a cease-fire, saying Israel has the right to defend itself.

Although some spoke and carried signs specifically addressing Israeli's military action in Lebanon, crowd members also chanted against United States involvement in Iraq and escalating conflict in Gaza between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Abdelfadeel said it's easier to focus on Lebanon because the nation is receiving the most media attention of the countries experiencing conflict in the Middle East - but that other areas, such as the Gaza Strip, were equally important to organizers.

The rally culminated in a nearly 40-minute march through the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair but city law requires a permit for large groups to march in the streets.

Due to time constraints, organizers did not apply for a permit, Abdelfadeel said. Instead, the march made two laps on the sidewalks of campus.

Four Department of Public Safety Officers escorted the march.

During the group's second lap, one man screamed back at the demonstrators, causing some adverse reaction from marchers. The instance was quickly broken up by organizers.

American Culture and Women's Studies Prof. Nadine Naber, who spoke at the rally, said the individual was "insignificant" to the event's overall success.

Abdelfadeel said that the biggest misconception onlookers might have of the rally is that "we as a group support Hezbollah or Hamas and that we don't care about the Israel civilian casualties. That's not true at all."

University alum Laurel Federbush and her mother, who are Jewish, marched with signs reading "Real Jews denounce Israel's war crimes."

Federbush said that while the Israeli government often speaks on behalf of Jewish people, she does not support its actions in Lebanon.

Over the past few months Federbush has asked the University's Board of Regents to cut financial ties with Israel twice.

Each time the line passed University President Mary Sue Coleman's residence on South University Avenue, leaders paused to demand that the University divest from Israel.

Activist and University alum Tarek Diya shouted into a bullhorn, "Mary Sue, I told you we'd be back," as police officers monitored the crowd from Coleman's lawn.

"This will be the year of divestment for Ann Arbor," he continued. Abdelfadeel said Students Allied for Freedom and Equality plans to make a push for divestment in the fall.

The Muslim Students' Association has signed a resolution created by SAFE in support of divestment.

This past March, about 140 faculty and students petitioned the University's Board of Regents to cut all financial ties with Israel.

At that time, Regent Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) told the Daily the board would never support divestment.

Deitch said many regents question whether divestment is an appropriate action for a university to take, even in extreme cases, because it opposes the board's goal of encouraging investment.

The University last divested from the tobacco industry in 2000.

Locally, the rally was sponsored by the Muslim Students' Association, SAFE, the Michigan Congress of Arab American Organizations and the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and Vicinity. Several Toledo-based groups also sponsored the demonstration.

Abdelfadeel said the event was also heavily publicized throughout Dearborn's Muslim community.

She said that although she expected more supporters from out of town, she was impressed by the number of Ann Arbor community members who marched.

This past Tuesday, a similar Dearborn rally attracted nearly 10,000 people.