When Miko Peled was growing up, he used to wonder why Palestinian towns were brown and thick with dust.
Palestinians are allotted 3 percent of the water supply while Jewish settlements, just across the street, have unlimited access, Peled said.
“If you’re going to kill someone, other than shoot them, or choke them, you deny them water,” he said.
Peled, an Israeli-American human rights activist and author, spoke to students in the Student Union (SU) Theater about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, advocating for the Palestinian cause, which he said the U.S. media tends to overlook. UB-Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted the event on March 10. UB-SJP Club Mission is to educate and raise awareness about Palestine and Palestinians around the world to the students, faculty, clubs and community members, according to Fadi Suboh, president of SJP.
Hamza Aamir, vice president of SJP, said the club "understands and respects students' free speech."
But many UB pro-Israel members are opposed to Peled’s views. Some students called the university to have this event shut down and voiced their opposition on social media.
“As for UB for Israel, we will continue to be a proactive pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian organization seeking to facilitate constructive dialogue on campus,” said Joel Finkelstein, UB for Israel vice president.
Finkelstein said Peled has been known to “demonize and condone terrorism” against Israel. “While there is fair and constructive criticisms of every country, including Israel, Mike Peled makes baseless accusations in attempt to demonize, delegitimize, and hold Israel to a double standard,” Finkelstein said. “Nothing constructive can come from conversations on the Israel-Palestinian conflict if you dismiss the other party as illegitimate and hold them at fault.”
Aamir said SJP is willing to "facilitate any constructive or social events with any student groups on campus." The club said it requires that other clubs send them a proposal in advance.
“However, as far as UB-SJP is concerned, we are a Pro-Peace organization and it’s completely unacceptable and intolerant to call for a shutdown just because of a speaker who tends to have different political views on certain topics that other student groups might strongly disagree with," Suboh said. "There is nothing wrong with coexisting and having different political views at the same time.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a decades-long land dispute with century-old origins. After facing anti-Semitism in Europe, Jewish immigrants looked to create their own homeland as part of the Zionism movement. This search for a homeland led to immigrants taking control of the area formerly known as Palestine. In 1949, Israel was officially recognized as a country.
The two territories formally considered Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, are currently Israeli-occupied with increasing numbers of “resettlement housing” for Jewish citizens.
The extremist Islamic group, Hamas, has intensified the conflict and currently controls the Palestinian area of Gaza.
“If you look at the [United Nation’s] description of the crime of genocide and you compare it to the list of policies and actions by the state of Israel over the last seven decades, it’s not identical but it’s almost identical,” Peled said.
Suboh said Peled is "nationally known for identifying himself as a peace activist for human rights" and he is "explicitly" known for being a critic.
"Being a critic of your own state/country doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be inciting hate and violence nor does it mean that you’re encouraging terrorism or condoning it against anyone. It depends on how the message is sent and how it’s received.”
Surya Rajan, a second year graduate student of chemical and biological engineering, said he is a supporter of peace and came to the talk because he didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“From the question I asked him, I can safely come to a conclusion that racism is behind such a big issue,” Rajan said. “I thought that there should be some kind of political motive as well, but the deep cause seemed to be the racism.”
Peled said he thinks the U.S. has been complicit in the act of genocide over the last several decades by supporting and selling arms to the state of Israel. He said that over the next decade, Israel will be getting close to $4 billion a year from its allies.
“So if people are never warned about the severity of their actions, if people are never told about the severity of Israel’s actions, they’re not going to know,” Peled said. “Because they don’t see it on CNN and they don’t see it in the mainstream media and it doesn’t show up on popular culture. We need to tell them. Those of us who know; those of us who care.”
Suboh agrees and says the media never shows the "full picture or a complete coverage of both sides." He said he has friends who return to the U.S. from Palestine and understand why he puts blame on the media for "people's lack of knowledge about what's really going on over there."
Rawan Allawh, a senior aerospace and mechanical engineering major, said she was losing hope for the Free Palestine movement based on what she’d seen in the news. The Free Palestine movement is a global movement to defy Israeli borders and the oppression of Palestinians.
“I like that [Peled] gave us more hope because I’m Palestinian, myself, but I was born and raised in America, so I’ve never even been there, never really seen anything,” Allawh said.
Peled wore a button that read, “BDS,” which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a nonviolent resistance looking to raise awareness in the fight for Palestine. Israel considers BDS terrorism and U.S. state legislatures are looking to criminalize BDS involvement, according to Peled.
“That’s what Apartheid is,” Peled said. “Apartheid is when you have different people live under different sets of laws, governed by the same government.”
Peled said that the work done by SJP on campuses across the country has dramatically changed the conversation about Palestine and has become part of the general Palestinian resistance. He said more people need to start campaigns and more Israeli academics need to stand up and ask why Palestinians aren’t getting enough water.
“UB-SJP wishes if there were millions of Miko," Suboh said. "His presentation included his actual experiences, a good analysis of the conflict and how it started, facts, and his own respected views on the Israeli Palestinian conflict from its roots. Nothing crossed my mind as ill-founded nor baseless.”
Other students, who voiced their concerns regarding Peled’s speech, said they understand UB’s Freedom of Expression policy.
“While I disagree with almost everything [Peled] says, I respect the right of free speech as long as he doesn’t incite hatred or violence,” Finkelstein staid.
Suboh said in order to have a "constructive efficient conversation on any conflicts," it's important to hear both sides of each party.
"For example, Palestinian Israeli Conflict, both parties have committed legitimate mistakes regardless of how much these mistakes weigh, they’re still mistakes to consider, but after all we don’t think it‘s helpful to point fingers, but it’s undoubtedly helpful to keep some form of record keeping on file and a history to recite because if that’s not done, then who will carry the word.” Suboh said.
*Editor's note: The original article did not have Suboh or Aamir's quotes.
Katie Kostelny is a features staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org