A noontime Monday open mic on the UC Davis Quad morphed from a commemoration of last year’s Occupy protests and police pepper-spraying into a condemnation of Israel’s military strikes on Gaza.
The event attracted a crowd estimated at more than 125 people to the Quad. The pro-Palestinian majority there unfurled banners that read “Davis and Gaza are one fist” and “Anti-Zionism is not hate speech.”
Graduate student Eran Zelnik said he served in the Israeli military in Gaza 12 years ago. He saw first-hand how Israel had cultivated what he called a “seething hatred in its population,” he said.
“If the cause of Israel is oppression and violence,” Zelnik said, “then call me a traitor.”
He encouraged students to call on the U.S. government not to keep playing the role of “accomplice” in Israel’s actions.
“Your tax money and technology developed on UC campuses is now wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of people in the Gaza strip.”
Lara Kiswani, a UCD student from 1999 to 2003 who is now executive director of San Francisco’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center, sought to tie the message to the campus. She said UCD had a proud history of standing up for the Palestinian people, but that campus leaders have routinely sought to defuse student activism.
“Zionists and racists,” she said, at one point, have no place in a Cross Cultural Center “which is meant to be a place for radical organizing,” or on campus.
A late-arriving group of about 30 held signs like “Pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace” and “Ceasefire now.”
They remained quiet until the pro-Palestinian group marched off, drumming and chanting “Long live the intifada!” Then, the smaller group broke into a chorus of Israel’s national anthem.
“Israel only wants peace, nothing but peace,” said Yuval Karmi of Emet: Students with Israel, who described himself as an Israeli citizen and supporter of a two-state solution. “The recent operation in the Gaza strip is only meant to protect the citizens of Israel.
“My heart goes out to any human being hurt mentally or physically by this conflict.”
As the pro-Palestinian group headed toward Dutton Hall, two remained behind and talked with the pro-Israel students — about Israeli settlements, the country’s pre-1967 border, even what one called the “Wile E. Coyote” missiles fired by Hamas.
“I play soccer with Israelis,” the other said, by way of introduction.
About 40 protesters took part in a brief sit-in at Dutton Hall, which they said was being held in solidarity with Palestinians, not as an action by Occupy UC Davis. Campus spokesman Barry Shiller said the students apparently left on their own without police intervention.
Sponsored by the Graduate Student Association, Monday’s event was meant to mark the anniversary of the pepper-spraying of unarmed Occupy protesters by police.
Ian Lee, one of the students pepper-sprayed, urged other students not to lose sight of the “privitization plan” of UC leaders and warned them not be fooled by committees set up to hear student concerns.
“When your targets approve of and are even encouraging your dissent, you should reconsider your premises,” Lee said.
Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Adela de la Torre told students about her own history as a protester and as a witness to racism.
She said she was “committed to a vision of openness, transparency and dialogue.” To that end, she talked about creating a neutral observer program making use of law students and community members.
“I will not permit violence to occur in the context of free speech,” de la Torre said.
Her remarks were greeted with a brief chant of “drop the charges” — a reference to the so-called “Davis Dozen”: 11 students and one professor facing misdemeanor charges for their successful blockade of the now-closed U.S. Bank branch.
Protesters believe that the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office decision to charge them was proof the campus had found a way to deal with dissent out of the public eye.
The Rev. Kristin Stoneking of Cal Aggie House also called on UCD leaders to ask that the charges be dropped.
She acted as mediator between Chancellor Linda Katehi and angry protesters outside Katehi’s Nov. 19, 2011, press conference the day after the pepper-spraying. A video of Katehi and Stoneking walking past the protesters in eerie silence soon went viral.
Stoneking said she supported a working group’s proposal for restorative justice: an independent, community-based process of victim-offender reconciliation that would look at the root causes of the protests.
That plan has so far “gone nowhere” with the administration, she said.
“There is no healing without justice,” Stoneking said.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cory_golden