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And the impact it might have on our campus

Daniel LeRoy | Fulcrum Staff

Illustration by Mathias MacPhee

After the killing of a Gazan government official, Hamas, the political authority in the Gaza Strip, intensified random rocket fire into Israel. In response, Israel mobilized 75,000 troops on Nov. 16 to prepare for what may come. Almost 100 civilians have already been killed in Gaza, as Israel tries to target the military and political infrastructure under Hamas. Three Israeli citizens were killed by the rocket fire from Gaza, and this has triggered a bout of fighting between the two groups.

While the Gaza-Israel conflict has been reported on constantly over the past week, it leaves many Canadians wondering what it means for us. Why should we be concerned about a conflict so far away from our country?

Over the past few years, both Canadian and American universities have seen an increase in on-campus hostility between pro-Palestinian students and pro-Israeli students. The protests and riots that occurred at Concordia University in 2002 are a major example of the tension that lies under the surface at some universities.

Benjamin Netanyahu, then a high-ranking official in the Israeli government and now the Prime Minister of Israel, was set to come and speak at the Concordia campus. Students who were frustrated at the current plight of the Palestinian people in the Middle East set up protests in an attempt to cancel the event, and when it wasn’t cancelled, they directly harassed students as they tried to enter the venue where the talk was scheduled to take place. The pro-Palestinian group’s actions became violent; group members physically blocked the entrance to the venue, and many windows were smashed.

In his speech, Netanyahu suggested that the inability of one group to listen to the ideas of another was a small sample of the attitudes that had created the untenable situation under which Israelis and Palestinians live every day in the Middle East. The “unforgiving fanaticism,” as Netanyahu labelled the actions of the protesters, was a microcosm of the hate for a “free-market of ideas,” which he suggested was the first ingredient in any peaceful society.

The tension between these two student groups shaped the environment during the Concordia campus for the fall of 2002. On the University of Ottawa campus, we have both a Jewish student group (Hillel) and a Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) student group. If the violence intensifies in Gaza, it is possible that tensions may flare amongst those who have particularly strong ethnic, cultural, and religious ties to the region and its people.

The Concordia incident sent a clear message to all Canadian universities: we must be more tolerant and educate our student community so that no such thing occurs again. Imagine if the Hillel and SPHR were to jointly hold an educational event to inform the student population and vent their frustrations on the devastation happening right now to both Israelis and Palestinians. Education and harmony among our generation of students, no matter what their ethnic or political background, could take Canadians one step closer to creating a peaceful and prosperous future for all. At the end of the day, isn’t that what everybody wants?