Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s ripples reach UC Berkeley community

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Community members, including some UC Berkeley students, rallied in San Francisco over the weekend in support of Gaza.

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As fighting among Israelis and Palestinians entered its 16th consecutive day Wednesday, members of the UC Berkeley community in the impacted areas were grappling with the reality of violence outside their doors.

The conflict took the lives of about 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Associated Press. Israeli officials have said the military’s primary objective is to destroy the underground network of tunnels used by Hamas militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shukri are spearheading ceasefire negotiation efforts, but Israeli and Palestinian officials have yet to reach common ground.

According to Andrew Goldblatt, campus risk manager, the university recommended that two UC Berkeley graduate students conducting research in Israel evacuate the area. But federal authorities restricted U.S. flights to and from Israel on Tuesday and most of Wednesday, preventing the safety directive from being immediately carried out. The UC Education Abroad Program does not currently have any programs in session in Israel.

A Palestinian woman living in the area who recently graduated from UC Berkeley and spoke on the condition of anonymity said she woke last week to the feeling of her house shaking and the sound of bombs dropping nearby. Israel, she said, needs to start treating Palestinians as equals.

“I will not be okay with being treated as a second-class citizen because I’m Palestinian,” she said. “The future is equality for all, and that is something that Israel has to accept.”

The university canceled the nonpartisan Olive Tree Initiative’s summer trip, according to Emily Gottreich, interim chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The center will focus a large portion of its fall program around the conflict and plans to facilitate a teach-in once students are back on campus.

“Emotions run high around these issues, and it’s important to have a place where students can discuss and have an academic discussion with professors who can guide the conversation in a productive way,” Gottreich said.

Ayal Keren, also a recent UC Berkeley alumnus, said he still worries for his family’s safety in northern Israel even though most of the violence has taken place in and around the Gaza Strip. Israel does not have a choice but to defend itself, he said, given that Hamas launched daily rockets targeted at Israeli civilians.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, who penned a controversial op-ed Monday in the Huffington Post, said an unfair attack is being waged on Israel as it tries to minimize Palestinian casualties by launching surgical strikes as opposed to a large-scale ground invasion.

“I see Israeli society battered over and over and Hamas putting Palestinian children at risk by getting close to homes and hospitals and schools … I don’t see peace,” Creditor said.

Imagining a feasible peace effort in the short term is difficult, said Peter Bartu, an international and area studies lecturer at UC Berkeley. He cited a lack of national Palestinian unity and the need for major changes to Israel’s political configuration in order for a resolution to become a possibility.

“What we’re seeing, regardless of what the two sides want, is this growing international alarm over the scale of casualties on the Palestinian side,” Bartu said. “It’s hard to imagine a kind of pathway emerging in such a way that one could see a serious negotiation toward a solution in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Contact Natalie Meier at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nat_meier.