Campus groups dish blame as death toll in Gaza grows

Local protests came this weekend as both sides claimed moral highground in the ongoing conflict.  Many students donated their Facebook statuses to the growing death tolls – both of Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile, global criticism of the Israeli military offensive in Gaza against Hamas continued to grow.

Statements and reports released by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross last week criticized the Israeli government for what the groups described as preventing humanitarian aid from reaching wounded Palestinians.

Local protest organizers, including Indiana Students against War and the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition, voiced frustration at Congress’ reaffirmed support of Israel and the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians.

Protest organizer and ISAW member James Cooper said the group’s purpose is to spread awareness of the conflict and demand peace for Gazan civilians.

“We want to keep the conflict in the public eye,” he said. “Many people might not know what’s going on.”

Despite the criticisms, IU Hillel President Mark Swick said he supports Israel’s military offensive.

Swick said the civilian casualties bother him, but he added Palestinians knew the war was coming when Hamas continuously fired rockets into Israel.

“Many people think pro-Israel people are blindly supportive, but that’s not true,” he said. “It’s tough for me to see civilians dead. I never wanted Israel to enter into any war.”

For the past several weeks, Hamas has raised its offensive against Israel by targeting the country with rockets. The violence escalated with a recent Israeli invasion of Gaza, an invasion that has killed more than 800 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

“People have no place to go,” Cooper said. “Sure, they can run from the violence, but where do they go?”

Gaza is densely populated, and much of the fighting has occurred in the region’s urban centers.

Protestors in Bloomington began by holding up signs in the Monroe County Courthouse Square.

They then marched to the office of Rep. Baron Hill, D-Bloomington, at the Showers
Plaza, chanting, “Stop the killing, justice for Gaza!” and “Justice for Palestine!”
At Hill’s office, the protestors were met by one of the congressman’s field representatives, Trent Deckard.

Presenting Deckard with a poster showing Palestinian children, which read “200 children dead,” the aide assured the protesters that their words “do not fall on deaf ears.”

The group voiced its anger at Hill’s Jan. 9 vote in the House of Representatives to reaffirm American support for the Israeli government.

Cooper said he wasn’t expecting to speak to a representative once the group reached Showers Plaza, but he thanked Deckard for the group’s opportunity to speak.

BPAC member and protestor Kadhin Shaaban called the ongoing violence a “major catastrophe in humanity,” adding that the violence is self-perpetuating and will only cause “radicalism” to grow.

“Peace can be achieved by giving people their humanity back,” Shaaban said.
IU graduate student Martha Alhieh also attended the protest, calling the Israeli invasion on Gaza an “unwarranted disaster.”

“Civilian casualties are unacceptable in any war,” she said. “Everything about the war (in Gaza) is wrong. Israel claims it has the moral high ground when it doesn’t.”
Protestor Joanne Hsamk said as a Mennonite, she is naturally a pacifist and opposes war in all forms. She said Israel attacking Gaza is no way to achieve peace in the Middle East.

“War is unevolved,” she said. “The idea of achieving peace with violence is ignorant.”

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