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ISSUE 121 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/9/2008

Focus on Palestine provokes awareness

By Ida Holdahl
Associate Editor

Friday, May 9, 2008

With finals just on the horizon, many students are hurriedly trying to catch up on their course work and put in extra hours of studying before exam time.

This week, the Oles for Justice in Palestine group tried to enlarge the perspective of students on campus through a number of different events planned to educate the St. Olaf community.

The group, formed this semester, consists of a number of different student groups: those who have been on Term in the Middle East, those who have previously been to the Middle Eastern region (not through St. Olaf's Term in the Middle East) and students with interest in the conflict or with friends in the group and currently includes about 20 members who regularly both participate and attend meeting.

President Kate Hagen '09 explained that the group was formed at the beginning of the semester after she returned from an internship in Jerusalem over the month of January, following St. Olaf's Term in the Middle East.

Not yet a full semester in and the group is having weekly meetings on Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m., which Hagen explains "have a lot of energy" because, in her belief, the situation is such that "once you get involved in understanding the conflict, it's hard to turn away from it."

The major goal of the "energetic" group, Hagen says, is "to educate the greater St. Olaf community" and be active in "advocating that the position that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is unjust." From this perspective, last week's festivities were in many ways designed to do just that.

The week featured numerous events, starting with a group called "Wheels for Justice", a group that seeks to "speak honestly and openly about Palestine/Israel as well as the war against, and occupation of, the nation of Iraq," focusing on the notion that "you cannot have any peace without justice."

Expanding upon this idea, Hagen recalled a memory from her internship in January. It was the day that President Bush came to visit and "an older Arab man explained that if the US wants peace, there will be peace."

On Tuesday, the group hosted a panel discussion in Valhalla, which featured the group's academic advisor Pastor Benson, professor Nordstrom and Palestinian-American student at Carleton Leena Odeh.

"I have received a lot of positive feedback about the even; it was well attended and supported," Hagen said.

Odeh expressed a gracious surprise at the amount of support the group has received among the student body. As a student at Carleton, Odeh has addressed the issue, but says it is not well received.

"A lot of times there is a pretty large lash-back from the community," Hagen said.

Thursday featured a Holocaust Memorial service, with prayers read from Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religions in what Hagen said was a more "intimate" service. "Pancakes for Palestine" followed this to help raise money for Wheels for Justice and for other events the group plans to advocate.

The group rasied almost $100, whichwill go to foot some of the costs of the organization, but most will go to a Lutheran charity in Bethlehem.

The final event, a mock checkpoint outside Friday afternoon, was dampened somewhat by the weather.

Hagen said that the week served as an important initial step in understanding the reality of the situation in Israel and the West Bank, where Israelis and Palestinians alike are constantly bombarded by checkpoints throughout Bethlehem.

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