The UC Berkeley Muslim Students Association staged a silent demonstration on Sproul Plaza Tuesday in support of the Irvine 11 — a group of UC Irvine and UC Riverside students arrested for disrupting the speech of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the campus in February 2010.
The protest was part of a larger day of solidarity occurring across the University of California that was organized by the group Stand with the Eleven.
Demonstrators dressed in red and taped their mouths shut to show their support for the 11 students and to bring attention to the silencing of the Palestinian narrative, according to Zienab Abdelgany, president of the campus Muslim Students Association.
“Awareness is the beginning of the process of getting people involved to express their concerns of the silencing of dissent and student protest,” said Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the campus Department of Near Eastern Studies, who was present at the demonstration.
Ten of the Irvine 11 were sentenced last month for conspiring to disrupt and proceeding to disrupt a public event. The students were sentenced to three years of probation without any jail time. Charges were dismissed against the 11th student pending completion of 40 hours of community service.
Bazian drew a parallel between the issue of the Irvine 11 and Mario Savio of Berkeley’s Free Speech movement.
“The speaker has the right to free speech, and the protester has the right to free speech as well,” Bazian said.
However, according to Jacob Lewis, co-president of Tikvah: Students for Israel, the free speech message of the Muslim Students Association’s protest is filled with “hypocrisy.”
“I think Cal students are smart enough to understand that the Irvine 11’s right to freely express themselves cannot come at the expense of another person’s right to express himself and that shouting down a speaker is not a constructive form of demonstration,” Lewis said.
Other demonstrators handed out fliers on the issue and tried to engage in dialogue with passers-by.
Husam El-Qoulaq, a junior peace and conflict studies major, said he tried to convey to the people he spoke with that the arrests of the Irvine 11 represent a “concentrated effort to quell the Palestinian narrative.”
The conversations taking place on the plaza went beyond surface issues and tried to look at the bigger picture, according to Ryan Esfahani, a junior and a society and environment major, who talked to a demonstrator.
“I got a greater appreciation for the issue — you just get a good reminder,” he said of his conversation.
The association also sold wristbands to raise funds for the legal fees of the Irvine 11, making nearly $200, according to Sahar Pirzada, a member of the association.
With the aim of continuing to spread awareness, the association will hold a teach-in conducted by Bazian on Oct. 17 at 5 p.m.