Frustrated by the way students and other community members have responded to recent events in the Israeli occupied territories, three undergraduates say they plan to organize a new student group to support the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The founders of the group, which will be called the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said yesterday that their group will be more of a political force than the Society of Arab Students, which is primarily a cultural group.
"We plan to be very visible on campus," said Dina N. Abu-Ghaida '91, one of the group's organizers. "We want a Palestinian state."
"SAS has too large a task to focus on anything in particular," Abu-Ghaida added.
The formation of the group owes much to current events in the Middle East, founders said. "In the past, we haven't had a core committed group," Abu-Ghaida said. "But this year we do because of events taking place in Israel."
"We represent a political voice that has to be heard," organizer Lucas P. Barr '91 said.
The Palestine Solidarity Committee will break from SAS's non-political stance and actively support a two-state solution to the crisis in Israel's occupied territories, Abu-Ghaida said. "We don't want to have the usual movies and lectures," she said. "We want to confront people with the situation."
The group plans to hold several poster campaigns and demonstrations this year, organizers said.
Palestinian activists on campus say an anti-Arab atmosphere at Harvard makes their task very difficult.
"People have called me and talked to me about how frightened they were [to protest Israeli treatment of Arabs]," said Imraan Coovadia '92, who helped organize last week's demonstration protesting the killing of Arabs by Israeli police at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Coovadia said that students eating dinner in Quincy House booed when he announced the demonstration last week. Other Arab activists agreed that the Harvard community receives them negatively.
"People tear down our posters all over campus," SAS member Rhoda A. Kanaanen '92 said.
"One guy was spitting at our demonstration," Barr said. Barr attributed the hostility to strong anti-Arab sentiment on campus. "No one is going to go around spitting on an anti-Apartheid demonstration."
The stereotype of Arabs as "fanatical and crazy" prevails among students, Barr said. "It's the same old racist depiction of a very important political movement."