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2009 Winter Issue 4 (February 6, 2009)

Carleton students organize in reaction to Gaza conflict

February 6, 2009
By Emily Jo Hartley

Two weeks ago, a group of Carleton students concerned with the silence on campus regarding the recent Gaza-Israel conflict decided to speak up. Now, after gathering signatures for a national petition and hosting a successful panel discussion, Let’s Talk is quickly making its presence known.

The organization was formed in response to the lack of knowledge at Carleton of Middle Eastern conflict and political situations. After Israel began bombing Gaza and the Palestinian political group Hamas in late December, three students wrote an editorial to The Carletonian stressing the need for discussion of the subject, which was published on the newspaper’s website. “It’s a place where oppression is a fact of daily life,” Katie Blanchard ’10, one of the editorial writers, said. “I think the severity of the recent conflict and the fact that a third of the casualties were children is what really concerned me this time around.”

Daniel Curme ’10, a history major focusing on the Middle East, paid witness to the building conflict when he was abroad fall term. “After studying in Israel, it became very personal,” Curme said. “When you’re there, it’s not just something you think about. You live it. I was struck when I got back here. No one was even talking about it.”

Trapped in the well-known “Carleton bubble,” becoming detached from global reality seems hard to avoid. For Moshe Lavi ’11, who grew up in the Israeli town of Sderot only a mile from Gaza, global matters cannot be ignored. Unlike most of the youth in his town, Moshe attended a regional school rather than public school and then went to the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway, where he encountered students, and thus opinions, from around the world. “People here are more afraid to have constructive debates,” Lavi said. “I find it difficult to attract people to global issues.”

He added that many conflicts less publicized than that between Israel and Gaza also deserve attention from Carleton students, and Let’s Talk has made it its task to give that attention. The group first tabled in Sayles urging students to write and phone their legislators about U.S. involvement in the Gaza conflict. Then on Jan. 29 they hosted a Gaza panel with professors and students discussing the history of Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as recent developments. The event drew a crowd of 80 people. “I thought it went extremely well,” Blanchard said. “I was so excited to see so many people in the room. It’s evident it’s an issue people want to engage in dialogue about.”

The scarcity of both Middle Eastern students and professors specializing in Middle Eastern studies presented a problem when group members discussed who would be part of the panel. The Carleton community currently has no Palestinian students, and Lavi is the only Israeli student on campus. “There is no narrative of Palestinian history or life on campus, and I think that’s problematic,” Curme said.

Let’s Talk is working on a solution for that problem too. They are exploring a nonprofit organization based out of Virginia called The Hope Fund, whose “principal mission,” according to its website, “is to provide a college education for young people who have demonstrated academic excellence, determination and drive.” Because Middle Eastern institutions generally lack resources, the group works with eleven different colleges in the U.S. to provide scholarships to Palestinian refugees living in poverty throughout the Middle East, with a few more schools becoming involved each year.

Carleton currently partners with similar scholarship organizations to promote student diversity including the Posse and Kellogg programs and the Starr Foundation. Let’s Talk considers The Hope Fund a worthwhile addition to this list. “I see it as a really amazing opportunity for people who don’t have access [to quality education],” Blanchard said. “The more diversity of experience that can be represented at Carleton, the better our education at Carleton will be,” both inside and outside the classroom.

Carleton Vice President and Treasurer Fred Rogers has been contributing to The Hope Fund for the past few years. He has a history of interest in the Middle East, attending high school at the Beirut American Community School and returning to Beirut while studying abroad as a Carleton student. Presently, he serves on the board of trustees for the Lebanese-American University in Beirut. Rogers recently said he wanted to “do more than send them [The Hope Fund] money” and is arranging to meet with the organization’s president to learn more about its goals and how to help achieve them.

“What everybody realizes is the cycle of violence and despair we’re in can’t lead us to where we want to be, and we’ve got to break that,” Rogers said. “But for some it’s harder than others… The one thing that will help people frame a different view of the future is education.”

Students spearheading the Hope Fund effort have moved quickly. Curme met with President Robert Oden Tuesday to discuss “whether or not we [Carleton] have an obligation to support something like this, to help students in this way based on the nature of this institution.”

Oden told Curme he considers the Hope Fund an excellent idea that the college would be willing to support, but the economic crisis makes it hard to secure funds for such an endeavor right now. According to Curme, he “shared our concern for the lack of a Palestinian voice or more generally Arab presence on campus,” and encourages students to speak out about this issue.

Let’s Talk will be circulating petitions to present to Admissions and the Administration in support of The Hope Fund. In addition, members are working on bringing a Palestinian speaker to Carleton as well as planning another, more interactive Gaza talk. They have begun work with the Northfield Human Rights Coalition and a Middle East subject-based student group from St. Olaf and would also like to cooperate with the Jewish Students of Carleton. The group stresses that, though formed in response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, it has no agenda and welcomes people of all opinions on the matter.

To get involved with any of the Let’s Talk activities, students can join the group’s mailing list at letstalk@lists.carleton.edu or e-mail blanchak@carleton.edu. More information on The Hope Fund can be found on the organization’s website, www.thehopefund.org.

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