Three flags were flying over the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Northrop Mall area Wednesday afternoon: American, Palestinian and Israeli. Hillel, the UniversityâÄôs Jewish student center, and student group Gopher Israel were giving out free falafel and hummus, playing music and waving Israeli flags in honor of the countryâÄôs 61st independence day. Along the base of the Northrop Plaza, protesters organized by the Muslim Student Association waved Palestinian and American flags and silently held signs protesting Israeli actions. âÄúThe point is to show what Israeli independence is really celebrating: decades of oppression,âÄù said Susie Gad, a second-year law student in the Muslim Student Association. Yoni Saadi, a psychology and political science sophomore who helped organize the independence day celebration, said he disagreed with the protesters but respected that they were present and not directly interfering with the Hillel event. âÄúThe celebration of the birthday for Israel, the independence, is considered to be a bad event within the perspective of many Arabs,âÄù said Ragui Assaad, a professor in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. âÄúHowever, that doesnâÄôt mean they donâÄôt want Israel to exist, it just means that this has had very negative consequences on the Palestinians and their expulsion from that land.âÄù As Phil Meyer, an applied economics first year, waved an Israeli flag at the celebration, he said he has felt a much stronger connection with Israel and his faith since visiting the country over winter break. âÄúAs a Jew, it was life-changing,âÄù he said. The protest sparked discussions throughout the day. Most event and protest participants agreed that peace was the ideal solution, but they spent a lot of time laying blame for past actions. Fatima Sayed, a Normandale Community College student who attended the protest, said she didnâÄôt know much about the history of the conflict, but she did know that the two cultures are similar, apart from their religions. She said the falafel and hummus being served on the plaza were the same foods Palestinians ate at home. In addition to holding signs, Muslim Student Association protesters were collecting signatures for petitions to stop U.S. military aid to Israel. Law student Gad said the petitions would be sent to MinnesotaâÄôs congressional representatives. âÄúWe want people to question where their tax dollars are going,âÄù she said. Assaad said the U.S. should use its influence as a long-time ally of the Israeli state to push more aggressively for a peaceful solution.