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Campus debates Mideast concerns - Divided crowd at Palestinian talks - Yelling disrupts question session (TORONTO STAR) CHRISTIAN COTRONEO 02/01/05)Source: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1107213017361 TORONTO STAR TORONTO STAR Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Minutes before a pro-Palestinian lecture series was slated to begin, about 150 people outside the University of Toronto classroom had already organized themselves into two camps — under two very distinct banners.

One, created by a pro-Israeli student group, read, "Four years of an Arab terror war have forced Israelis to live behind a fence."

Another, created by a pro-Palestinian group, read, "Free Palestinian political prisoners."

Mohammed Salameh leaned across that divide last night and asked, "Do you really believe that?"

The young man holding the pro-Israeli banner shot back, "Do you believe the lies that are being told you?"

And so the stage was set for the first lecture in a week-long series called "Israel Apartheid Week."

Adding a little more fuel to this fire, the event coincides with IsraelFest, which began Jan. 27 and runs through Thursday. The annual celebration of Israeli art and culture is hosted by the campus Jewish group Hillel and takes place at the University of Toronto.

Although members of the Arab Student Collective, which organized Israel Apartheid Week, say the timing was just a coincidence, the event´s kickoff was anything but low key.

Also yesterday, the group organized an exhibit, depicting living conditions for Palestinian refugees, in one of the downtown campus´s main thoroughfares.

"We picked that space strategically," said organizer Nadia Daar. "A lot of people came and looked at it and wanted to know more about the status of refugees in the diaspora as well as the occupied territories."

By the time the 7 p.m. lecture was ready to begin, members of pro- Israeli groups were waiting.

"I believe that these events, this week, are strictly and specifically denigrating one people, one nation, one culture on campus," said Jonathan Jaffit, president of Israeli group Betar Tagar.

But his counterpart, Hazem Jamjoum of the Arab Student Collective, billed the event as an opportunity for "a better analysis of what´s happening in Palestine."

In a memo released Jan. 19, David Farrar, the university´s vice- provost, acknowledged concerns from some members of the community but said the university will not bar the series from campus.

"Vigorous debate, especially concerning human rights and other global issues, provides an opportunity to seek solutions without violence," Farrar wrote. "We must protect that opportunity, for the university and for the larger community."

But Farrar also warned, "behaviour or speech that constitutes hatred or incitement to hatred against any group will be dealt with quickly and appropriately."

Despite a 45-minute delay over recording equipment and a classroom packed almost equally with Palestinian and Israeli supporters, the crowd remained relatively quiet for most of the two-hour lecture on the origins of Palestinian resistance.

Aside, that is, from a few very loud yawns, jeers and even one distinct shout, "You´re bin Laden! You´re part of that!"

But by question and answer period, the crowd had devolved into mostly yelling, and more signs appeared, including, "My son is a suicide bomber and all I got was a T-shirt."

When visitors finally began clearing the room, a young man in the back row, draped in an Israeli flag, shouted, "We´ll see you tomorrow."

Both Israeli Apartheid Week and IsraelFest continue today. (Copyright 1996-2005. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. 02/01/05)

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