Amid violence in the Middle East, pro-Palestinian and Israeli groups held demonstrations in front of Coffman Union on Friday — at one point nearing confrontation.
The event, held by Students for Justice in Palestine, was an emergency demonstration in response to Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip, which began last week and escalated over the weekend.
In all, 73 Palestinians, including 37 civilians, have been killed in the five-day onslaught. Three Israeli civilians have also died from Palestinian rocket fire.
The large group, equipped with flags and signs, marched through the mall area chanting, “Palestine will be free.”
Students supporting Israel assembled in response to the pro-Palestinian demonstration. They waved American flags and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to emphasize the historical bond between Israel and the U.S.
At the peak of the demonstrations, about 100 ralliers, mostly students and young people, gathered in front of Coffman.
Political science senior David Axelrod, an officer for Students Supporting Israel, said he came to the rally to speak against the idea that Israelis are killing Palestinians for no reason.
“We’re here to show that Israelis want peace, regardless of what’s going on,” Axelrod said. “We’ve made numerous gestures towards peace.”
Despite wishes for peace, the event nearly escalated into violence when the groups began chanting at each other in front of Coffman. At one point, demonstrators were inches away from each other.
Mechanical engineering senior Omar Alamy, who’s on the Muslim
Student Association board, had a megaphone and diffused the situation by telling the crowd to separate.
“The crowd started getting closer together, and that’s never a good thing,” Alamy said. “There’s always the chance of violence, and that’s never the answer.”
But violence in Gaza has continued, despite international attempts to broker a peace deal.
An Israeli missile flattened a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Gaza City on Sunday. Palestinian medical officials said the attack killed at least 11 civilians, mostly women and children, as Israel expanded a military offensive to target homes of wanted militants.
Meanwhile, Palestinian forces fired at least one more long-range rocket at Tel Aviv. This is the fourth day in a row the city has come under fire.
President Barack Obama, on a three-country tour of Asia, said Israel has a right to defend itself.
He said “no country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down” on its people, and any effort to resolve the conflict in Gaza “starts with no missiles being fired into Israel’s territory.”
Obama also said he had been in touch with the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Turkey in an effort to halt the fighting.
“We’re going to have to see what kind of progress we can make in the next 24, 36, 48 hours,” he said.
Alamy said he thought the Coffman event was successful in raising awareness of what’s going on in the Middle East.
“That’s our main point, just to get it out there,” he said.
Global studies junior Natalie Miller said she went to support the pro-Palestinian group because she is tired of the U.S. supporting Israel.
“I’m here because as a U.S. citizen my tax dollars are being spent on killing innocent civilians in Gaza,” she said. “I feel a moral imperative to take a stand.”
Metropolitan State University professor Manuel Barrera said he came to the rally against Israel.
“The people of Gaza have done nothing but try to maintain their dignity and to stay in control of whatever little land they’ve been ceded by the thugs of Israel,” Barrera said.
Kinesiology sophomore Ilan Sinelnikov is from Israel and waved an American flag while rallying with the pro-Israel group. He said Hamas, which have control of the Gaza Strip, are the problem keeping peace negotiations from happening between Palestinians and Israelis.
While most of the crowd dispersed after the demonstrations ended, members from both sides remained afterward to talk about the issue further.
—The Associated Press
contributed to this report.