Many people at the University of Texas, including both students and faculty, believe in the “zero-sum game” regarding Israelis and Palestinians. Essentially, they believe that Israeli success equals Palestinian failure and vice versa. As a member of Texans for Israel, the pro-Israel organization at UT, I can say that this could not be further from the truth. As an advocate for Israel, I want nothing more for the Palestinian people than for them to live in peace and prosperity alongside Israelis. The very essence of Zionism, the movement that calls for the Jewish people to have a state in our historic homeland, requires coexistence with Israel’s neighbors. In Syed Rizvi’s recent article, he argues that support for the Palestinian people is not a religious issue, but a humanitarian issue. We cannot agree more. To achieve peace, Israel advocates and Palestinian activists must come together in open dialogue and finally bring an end to the cycle of hatred. This can start today on UT’s campus.

Undoubtedly, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suffer. Checkpoints can cause journeys of short distances to take hours; unemployment has reached 25 percent; and wars have decimated major cities, killing many civilians. No knowledgeable person denies these facts, and no compassionate person ignores them. Yet many people forget the cause of the Palestinians’ suffering. According to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Yasser Arafat, the beloved leader of the Palestinians for over 40 years and founder of the Fatah party, diverted “over $1 billion in public funds to insure his political survival, [and] a lot more is unaccounted for.” He literally stole money from his impoverished people. This blatant corruption has plagued the Palestinian leadership ever since they received autonomy in the historic Oslo Accords of 1993. When Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, the people, tired of Fatah’s corruption, elected Hamas to power. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of the state of Israel as well as the murder of every Jew on the planet. Corruption caused the civilian population to get desperate, giving a terrorist group the ability to take over Gaza. Hamas, like Fatah, has neglected the Palestinian people and, instead, has spent millions of the dollars given for aid on weapons and tunnels to murder Israeli civilians. The only reason Israel established the checkpoint system is to prevent terrorists from attacking Israeli civilians. In fact, as the number of terror attacks has declined, so too has the number of checkpoints. However, the recent wave of terror attacks has escalated tension and can possibly lead to an increase in security.

Unfortunately, the pro-Palestinian movement on college campuses has been manipulated into becoming a crusade against the state of Israel. Pro-Palestinian student leaders should relish the opportunity to meet with Israel advocates and find common ground. We, at Texans for Israel, resent the accusation that we see the Palestinian people as “collateral damage that is executed by Israel for security reasons,” as Rizvi wrote, and we reach out our metaphorical hand to anyone who wishes to promote the coexistence between Palestinian and Israeli people. The next time there is an event promoting the Palestinian cause, we ask that Rizvi or another Muslim student leader invite a representative of Texans for Israel. I promise we will make the utmost effort to help.

On campus, advocates have a moral obligation to promote human decency throughout the world, but we must remember that the prosperity of one people does not impede the success of another and that corrupt leadership will not stand. Both peoples have suffered long enough. It is time for advocates of Israel and Palestinians to, as Rizvi said, “break bread” as we call for an end to the corrupt leadership and the beginning of peaceful times between Israeli and Palestinian people.

Finally, Rizvi’s accusation that Zionism equals racism is extremely offensive. I truly hope that it came out of ignorance and not malice because to say that Jews, a long-persecuted minority, have no right to a homeland would mean we are destined to live as minorities in lands that have historically discriminated against us.

Lefkowitz is a history freshman from Houston. This was written in response to Syed Rizvi’s Monday column titled “Palestine issues are humanitarian.” 

A protester is arrested while walking down the street on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday. On Aug. 9, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It has been a difficult month for the victims of state violence, as well as their families, friends, and those in solidarity. The month-long Israeli assault on Gaza involved a litany of war crimes, including the killing of trapped civilians, multiple bombings of hospitals, and the destruction of Gaza’s only power plant — all with critical U.S. support. And after the U.S. population reeled in shock from the NYPD murder of unarmed black man Eric Garner in broad daylight, Ferguson, Mo., was the site of another police murder — this time of unarmed, black 18-year-old Michael Brown, who, according to an eyewitness, was surrendering as he was shot six times. When people took to the streets of Ferguson in outrage, militarized police forces responded with armored vehicles, riot gear and riot weaponry, including rubber bullets and tear gas, which they used against not only the protesters but also reporters. Such instances of disproportionate force are unfortunately common, but there is at least one consistent pattern: When people resist subjugation, the state responds with violence.

Take Israel: It is a capitalist settler-state whose economy, in author Naomi Klein’s words, has “lost its economic incentive for peace and is heavily invested in fighting and profiting from an endless and unwinnable War on Terror.” So, the Israeli state depends on the subjugation and removal of Palestinians in order to continue economic expansion — this means the rejection of peace is built into its current existence.

In June, the two major factions of official Palestinian leadership, Hamas and Fatah, formed a unity government in the Palestinian Authority — this presented a major geostrategic problem for Israel. As public intellectual Noam Chomsky explains, a 20-year-long Israeli strategy has been “separating Gaza from the West Bank” in order to prevent the West Bank — which is geographically trapped between Israel and Jordan — from using Gaza as “an outlet to the outside world.” This strategy arose due to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which “declared that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity whose integrity must be preserved.” The Hamas-Fatah unity threatened to unite the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a single political entity — this could be a powerful force for peace, and so Israel responded with the opposite.

First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a terrorist for working with Hamas, which is the democratically elected governing organization of Gaza (but considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel). Second, Israel stated that it would maneuver to prevent further Palestinian elections. And third, it cynically used the murder of three teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank to unleash a new siege on Palestine — first came the arrests of hundreds of innocents in the West Bank and then the destruction of Gaza, which, in addition to the demolition of mosques, schools, hospitals, and vital infrastructure, has killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, disproportionately children and overwhelmingly civilians. As Amnesty International and other human rights groups have stated, this is collective punishment.

If Israeli capitalism relies on the total subjugation of Palestinians, then U.S. capitalism relies on something similar of black people and has done so since its beginnings under slave labor. The late historian Howard Zinn explains that the “United States government's support of slavery was based on an overpowering practicality,” which was that at their peak, Southern plantations were producing a million tons of cotton annually. And at this country’s founding, that capitalist practicality soundly rejected revolutionary spirit and led to the Constitution’s institutionalization of slavery. Thus, subjugated black labor was placed at the core of U.S. existence — the ending of one could end the other, and as Zinn explains, that meant fear of slave revolt was “a permanent fact of plantation life.” I will not get into the brutal horrors that were inflicted upon slaves in order to control them, particularly following revolts.

After the Civil War, racism continued not simply as a “legacy of slavery,” but because the capitalist economy still required obedient labor to function – as W. E. B. Du Bois put it, the “American Negro” had to be convinced that “his greatest enemy is not the employer who robs him, but his fellow white working-man.” Zinn explains that the American Federation of Labor and other dominant trade unions of the time only fought for limited workers’ rights and embraced the philosophy of “business unionism” – this involved mimicking hierarchical business practices, and thus “the Negro was excluded from most AFL unions.” Fundamentally, this practice perpetuated all the divisions of capitalist society — it was only the anti-capitalist unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, that sought to organize all workers, “undivided by sex, race, or skills.” In the midst of such radicalism, the worst sorts of violent coercion of black people were condoned or even actively carried out by the state. Lynchings, for example, typically involved publicly humiliating and murdering a black person, and regularly occurred without punishment in both the North and Jim Crow South – in fact, sociologist Arthur Raper estimates that 90 percent of lynchings were actively encouraged by police and that 50 percent had police participation.

When black students began sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the 1960s, the norm of subjugation was again threatened. White racists heckled and violently beat them, but it was only the nonviolent students that were “hauled off to jail,” in “mass arrests that [filled] the jails to overflowing.” Malcolm X (and others in the Black Power movement) offered a solution to young black people, one that terrified the state: “You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom.” This is a total refusal to be subjugated, and it is the reason that the overwhelmingly white Ferguson police have gone to war against the majority black protesters. After the Missouri State Police took over from their Ferguson counterparts, there were naïve hopes that they would de-escalate the situation — these were quickly dashed, as they also began using tear gas and militarized crowd-control tactics.

However, the U.S. state apparatus and the people are on opposite sides of this issue. Across the country, vigils with hundreds of people have been held in solidarity with the protesters, including in Austin. Even more amazing has been the international solidarity between subjugated peoples — Palestinians have advised the Ferguson protesters on how to deal with tear gas, tweeted messages and images of solidarity, signed a statement in their support and a Ferguson protester even brought out a Palestinian flag. This empowerment is necessary, because the state will not back down, for the inherent reasons explained. As such, Israel has ended peace talks and launched missile strikes at the family home of a Hamas military commander, killing his wife and child, in retaliation for alleged (and unconfirmed) rockets launched into Israel from Gaza. In either case, Netanyahu has called for a “continued campaign” of strikes in Gaza, which already has a civilian-majority death toll. The St. Louis police have shot and killed yet another black man, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, and a cellphone video shows that the official police account of the incident contains falsehoods. The state’s violence will continue and so must the struggles against oppression — those of us in Austin must show solidarity for both Palestine and Ferguson.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.


Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this letter left out a paragraph. It has been added to the bottom. 

Patrick Higgins and Kelly Houck believe they are correcting the record by responding to my article, but they are doing nothing of the sort. To begin with, Higgins and Houck claim that Gaza is so small, that any warnings Israel gives before bombing a target are irrelevant. This ignores the fact that Gaza is far from as densely populated as alleged. Moreover, Israel's bombs are precision in nature. If someone receives a roof knock and a text message, they need only leave the house. There are numerous photos and plenty of video across the Internet of the targeted nature of Israeli bombs, including its targeted bombing of a Hamas terrorist on a motorcycle.

Higgins and Houck are correct that Israel has bombed hospitals, schools, and shelters. However what is not mentioned is that Hamas has used Shifa Hospital as its headquarters and sent bombs from hospitalsschoolsshelters and mosques.

Contrary to what Higgins and Houck say, Israel does not target entire villages for the hell of it, no matter what Wikileaks says. What Higgins and Houck cited was one military commander's opinion and has not been actual IDF policy. And as far as the UN document that was cited  this was a biased report that has since been disavowed by the author of the report, Judge Richard Goldstone. He claims essentially that if he had known then what he knows now, he would not have written the report as it was. 

Now, the one accurate statement in the entire article that I could find from Higgins and Houck is that the video I linked to was inaccurate, as it "merely" showed Hamas beating members of Fatah. Mea culpa (the video was inaccurately labeled). But it does not change the fact that Hamas has fired from shelters that Gaza civilians flee to (thereby turning them into a target), has urged its own civilians to be human shields and proudly even has a manual on how to use human shields.

Higgins and Houck cite casualty figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which the UN relies upon. This agency is run by Hamas. And this same UN has three times been caught with Hamas rockets in UNRWA schools and then later returned the rockets to Hamas. They are hardly neutral. And moreover, this ministry claims that all the dead are civilians due to the obvious PR benefit. This story has been played out before, during Cast Lead, the 2008 Gaza War. And later it was proven that the Israeli casualty figures were accurate and Hamas casualty figures inaccurate.

Higgins and Houck claim that Israel is a "colonialist expansionist settler" regime and Hamas is engaging in "self defense." I assume that the nearly 8,000 Jews who were forced from their homes in 2005 would beg to differ. They further claim that there is a "siege" on Gaza. I am sure that the hundreds of truck drivers daily delivering aid from the Kerem Shalom crossing (thousands of tons of aid just this week, despite Hamas firing at the Kerem crossing) would take issue with this.

Finally, it was alleged that I somehow read my points from a handbook  this is false and libelous. I could equally ask Higgins and Houck where they found their points. Instead of engaging in an honest discussion, Higgins and Houck have decided to engage in the false Zionist conspiracy argument. I don't know perhaps it just is beyond their comprehension that every day citizens who read the news would want to defend the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, under fire every day.

Higgins and Houck claim that Hamas has disavowed its charter and would accept a two-state solution. It never said anything of the sort. It only has said they are okay with a "hudna." This is an Islamic term and it means a temporary truce to rearm and reload. On "Charlie Rose," Khaled Mashaal admitted that even as Hamas could temporarily accept a "two-state solution," it would never give up its demand for 100 percent of Israel.

Raquel Reinstein, New York City, in response to "Response to Texas Stands with Gaza piece offers up shoddy talking points in defense of Israel."

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, a number of links were excluded from the original version of this firing line. They have been added to the parenthetical sentence discussing the bombings carried out by Israel on Gaza in the run-up to Operation Protective Edge.

In a letter in response to Dania Hussein’s recent op-ed on the Texas Stands with Gaza protest, Raquel Reinstein makes apparent her conviction that there is not a single horror that cannot be rationalized by mere mention of the word “Hamas.”

In attempting to paint a portrait of a “democracy” defending itself from “terrorists” — the thousands of Palestinians bombed into dismemberment, post-traumatic stress and death are the necessary collateral for such a task, you see — Reinstein makes several assertions. Each assertion contains wild disinformation.

We will address them in turn.

Reinstein claims that the Israeli Defense Forces send “leaflets and text messages in addition to performing roof knocks to prevent civilian deaths.” She leaves out the geographic realities of Gaza that render escape impossible. Gaza comprises 139 square miles and hosts a population of roughly 1.8 million; each of its borders is closed to them, by the Israelis to the north, east and west (where Israel patrols the seas), and by Israel in coordination with Egypt in the south.

During Operation Protective Edge, the name of Israel’s latest bombing campaign and land invasion, the entirety of the territory has been under fire. (Those who do escape death have to attempt life amid destroyed infrastructure.) As The Washington Post reported, the kinds of spaces bombed by Israel have included “an evacuation shelter, cemeteries, a school, mosques and al-Aqsa Hospital…” Under such conditions, Israel’s leaflets amount to a PR move, and a particularly sadistic one at that.

But communiqués leaked by Wikileaks reveal that Israeli commanders themselves do not observe strict differences between civilians and combatants, rendering each of Reinstein’s claims pertaining to the matter irrelevant. In one document, Major-General Gadi Eizenkot is described as referring to Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine, “an already approved plan” to “use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel,” treating them not as “civilian villages,” but as “military bases.” In other words, Israel targets entire villages and justifies it by labeling civilians “militants.”

In another leaked document, a mentioned UN report, investigating nine cases involving UN sites in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2008 and 2009, details Israel’s history of blatant disregard for human life. The report found that “the IDF breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises, that such inviolability and immunity cannot be overridden by demands of military expediency, and that the IDF did not take sufficient precautions to fulfill its responsibilities to protect UN property and personnel and civilians taking shelter therein.” So here is a case, investigated by the UN, in which Israel did not even take the most basic of precautions to avoid civilian deaths.

Reinstein insists there exists footage of Hamas beating Palestinians attempting to flee a warzone. The description for the video to which she links says the footage depicts Palestinians attempting to leave an area after receiving warnings from the IDF. In fact, the clip is taken from a 2009 German documentary about Hamas and the footage depicts moments from the 2007 inter-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This conflict involved acts of brutality from both sides, but we suggest readers consult “The Gaza Bombshell,” an article published in Vanity Fair, to get an idea of the role played by Israel and its allies, particularly the United States, in creating and fueling that conflict in an attempt to divide Palestinian leadership. The Bush administration funded and helped to plan Fatah’s armed coup attempt against Hamas in order to undermine Palestinian democracy after Hamas gained an electoral advantage through peaceful means.

In Reinstein’s warped logic, Israel’s 2005 “withdrawal” from Gaza was a showing of peace, even though it marked the beginning of Israel’s brutal siege policy. A popular phrase to describe the condition of Gaza under the siege is “open-air prison”; this descriptor is accurate. To us the transformation of Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison does not much sound like peace; it sounds like a form of terror.

Reinstein’s letter brings up the worn-out talking point that Hamas in its charter incites anti-Jewish sentiment. We see no need to discuss the 1988 Hamas Charter here, as it is not politically operative. Hamas official Khaled Meshaal has stated as much. He has also stated that Hamas would accept a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. We do not necessarily endorse this solution and accept that it is a matter for Palestinians to decide. Nonetheless, we would like the facts of Hamas’ political program to be known.

The video clip provided by Reinstein to bolster the claim that Hamas wants to destroy Jews, featuring Hamas official Osama Hamdan, does not contradict the policy outlined above. In the clip, Hamdan makes clear that Hamas does not have any problem whatsoever with Jews. Hamas takes issue with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, he says.

Apparently, the terror facing Gazans is, according to Reinstein, a “blockade” rather than a “siege.” Both words in fact apply. The blockade keeps goods out of Gaza; the policy accelerates into siege routinely, as Israel swoops into Gaza and drops bombs upon it at will. (Israel had bombed Gaza just about every month of this year, before Protective Edge began, in January, at least three times in February, March, April and June.) But we will not press the matter too far — we are happy to leave Reinstein to split hairs about whatever word for collective torment fits her propaganda best.

Reinstein says Hamas shoots at aid trucks coming in through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. No evidence for this claim is provided other than IDF testimony. Some materials make it into Gaza, and Gazans are, we suppose, expected to jump for joy, for their imprisoners weaken them by starvation rather than outright kill them by starvation. (As the past weeks have shown, Israel has plenty of other means to kill Palestinians outright.) Still, documents obtained by the BBC show the extent of the cruelty of Israel’s policy, including commissioning reports to find out the absolute minimum of calories possible to keep Palestinians in Gaza alive.

Finally, on the casualty numbers. They are provided to international media by the UN, which works with the Palestinian Ministry of Health (obviously), and also has representatives in Gaza. Reinstein’s source, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, is located in Israel. It determines the “occupation” of the deceased by running Internet searches. Its reports do not provide links to the exact pages it uses as sources. We wonder why, as this would have provided us with the opportunity to examine them and make our own judgments.

Reinstein’s “arguments” are not even arguments; they are talking points, astonishingly easy to take down. There was leaked a handbook, published by The Israel Project, advising Israel supporters on the most effective language to use—in other words, a PR guide. Reinstein parrots these guidelines to parodic levels, from her opening display of empathy (page 4 of the handbook: “Show Empathy for BOTH sides!”) to her insistence that the beginning of Israel’s siege policy was a showing of peace (page 9 of the handbook: “Despite making an overture for peace by withdrawing from Gaza…”).

We are happy to have addressed Reinstein’s points in order to expose their extreme shoddiness. But we reject more than Reinstein’s points; we reject the very premises on which they were forwarded. The assumption undergirding Reinstein’s letter is that if it can be shown that there are weapons in Gaza, and some Palestinians operating them, the destruction of Gaza and the mass slaughter of its population can be justified.

The population in Gaza is comprised of refugees, created by the establishment of the State of Israel, and their progeny. As targets of an expansionist settler-colonialist campaign, removing them to make way for a growing population of Israeli settlers, they have yet to be granted a homeland. As a population of refugees, they lack a formal military to protect them. Those Palestinians who have taken up arms to protect their families in (illegally, to be redundant) occupied land have been labeled “terrorists” by Israel, the United States (Israel’s chief funder) and much of the international media. In this paradigm, the Palestinian right to self-defense has been assumed impossible. We do not only think the Palestinian right to self-defense possible — we insist that recent events prove more than ever its necessity.

We reject the idea that so long as Palestinians do not passively accept their fate and stage themselves as eternal victims, their cause for self-determination cannot be defended. We simply refuse to affirm the premise that Palestinians are subhuman.

Higgins and Houck are graduate students in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. They are both from Austin.    

Dania Hussein has it all wrong in blaming Israel for civilian deaths and the recent conflict in Gaza.

Firstly, it should be noted that Israel does everything it can to avoid civilian deaths. For every dead Palestinian child, Israelis are pained and Zionists around the world feel sadness. This is why, when defending Israeli civilians, the IDF sends leaflets and text messages in addition to performing roof knocks to prevent civilian deaths. But of course, it is impossible to 100 percent prevent civilian deaths. Those that are killed are killed due to Hamas, and your column gives a free pass for Hamas to kill more with impunity.

You mentioned the deaths at the Jabaliya camp. In fact, Hamas has been accused of shooting rockets from the Jabaliya location. I wonder if that is irrelevant to Hussein.

Hamas regularly shoots rockets from civilian locations and uses Palestinians as human shields, often against their will. In fact, there are videos of Hamas beating Palestinian men, women and children (warning: graphic) as they attempt to flee a war zone.

Then there are the claims that Israel does not want peace. But it was Israel that left Gaza in 2005. Gaza could have become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas, which calls for the annihilation of all Jews around the world in its charter, was elected.

Why is there a "siege" on Gaza (actually a blockade)? The easy answer is this is necessary to keep weapons out. And this is a serious concern, as we can see from the terror tunnels and rocket fire from Gaza (3,000+ from just the latest war alone). Humanitarian aid is allowed in Gaza, and hundreds of trucks a day are let into Gaza. Apparently, Hamas wants a blockade, however, as Hamas actually shoots at the Kerem Shalom crossing where trucks with aid go through.

And finally, civilian casualty numbers. In fact the numbers passed around the mainstream media are a lie that Hamas has made up. Numbers presented by non-liars, including the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel, show that in fact a majority of those killed have either been classified as militants, terrorists or unknown.

Of course, it is never possible to be able to have 100 percent accuracy in these matters, but if we take the immorality of the author of this article to an extreme, it would mean that democracies could not defend themselves anywhere against terrorists who use human shields. And that would cause mayhem worldwide.

The only solution is for Hamas to cease its terrorism. The day they do so, peace is possible.

— Raquel Reinstein, New York City, in response to Dania Hussein's Monday column on the 'Texas Stands with Gaza' protest


I’m responding to the false allegations in “Texas Stands with Gaza,” by Dania Hussein. In fact, Israel tries its best to avoid civilian deaths by warning residents in various ways to flee, but Hamas purposely chose to locate all its rocket launchers throughout civilian areas, including schools, hospitals and mosques. Should Israel have ignored endless rocket attacks on its citizens? That Hamas keeps its own civilians in danger as human shields, sometimes threatening them if they try to leave, is a moral outrage somehow not mentioned in this article. Israel pulled every last Jew out of Gaza in 2005, but for what? Hamas turned it into a war zone filled with missiles and terror tunnels used to kill Israeli civilians and hide Hamas leaders while Palestinians are being killed. Israel has the obligation to keep weapons from being smuggled in through these tunnels. The number of civilian casualties is wildly inflated here, too, as many of those killed have been Hamas operatives.

Hussein applies a double standard that would never be applied to another country. Why not vent her anger on Hamas, the radical Islamist group more interested in death (as their leaders have said) and the propaganda value of their own people being killed than in helping build schools, homes and better lives for them? Hamas places a much greater value on trying to destroy Israel than on helping Palestinians. That is the real travesty and crime.

— Sara Miller, New York City, in response to Dania Hussein’s Monday column on the ‘Texas Stands with Gaza’ protest

A group of UT students, along with other protesters, demand Israel end its occupation of Palestine at the "Texas stands with Gaza" protest on Saturday at The Texas State Capitol.


Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A group of UT students participated in the “Texas Stands with Gaza” protest of more than 3,000 at the Texas State Capitol on Saturday.

Saturday’s protest was the most recent of five events that have taken place at the Capitol during the summer. Jauzey Imam, a protester and UT student, said the protesters advocate that Israel leave the Gaza Strip.

“We’re joining protesters around the world in demanding that Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and immediately cease its collective punishment of the Gaza Strip [that include] aerial bombardment, targeting of water and sewage infrastructure and deliberate strikes in residential areas,” said Imam, who is also a computer engineering and Plan II senior.

During Saturday’s event, protesters chanted, “Free, free Palestine. Occupation is a crime. Free, free Gaza.” Speakers spoke in front of the Capitol as protesters held signs, as well as the Palestinian, Texan and American flags.

Imam, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee student organization, worked on the rally organizing committee. The Palestine Solidarity Committee has worked with The Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights to organize the protests along with other groups.

“We’re also demanding that the U.S. government condemn and sanction Israel for its brutal acts of war against civilian populations and its expansion of settlements in direct violation of international law and, furthermore, withdraw its three to four billion dollars per year of aid to Israel,” Imam said.

Texans for Israel was contacted before Saturday’s protest and gave a statement through Tracy Frydberg, former president of Texans for Israel and a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies and journalism.

“Israel is in Gaza to ensure that Hamas’ numerous sophisticated terror tunnels which lead to the front door of Israel’s homes and schools will not be used to kidnap civilians or commit acts of terror. In this process, Israel is using every means necessary to avoid civilian casualties. We mourn the tragic loss of life on both sides and hope for an end to the Hamas-instigated crisis.”

Texans for Israel is the largest UT pro-Israel student organization and was not present at the Capitol during the protests. On Friday, the organization’s leaders said they hope the protesters will also comment on Hamas’ actions.

Sofia Khan, a protester and social work graduate student, said Israel’s actions constitute genocide.

“For me, this is just genocide again,” Khan said. “This is a group of people living in their own country, and [Israel is] oppressing them, and they’re just trying to fight back.”

Biochemistry junior and protester Yasmeen Abu-Rezeq said at a July 16 protest that the conflict has affected her personally.

“I have family over there, and this is such a personal situation for me. People like my family are scared,” Abu-Rezeq said. “The killing needs to stop.”

Students on both sides of the issue said that UT students should be proactively educating themselves on the conflict.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Hamas-controlled parliament has passed a law requiring separate classes for boys and girls in public and private schools from the fourth grade.

Currently, boys and girls are separated in grade seven in public schools, and private schools can set their own rules.

The new law constitutes the most far-reaching attempt yet by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to impose their ultra-conservative social agenda on Gaza’s 1.7 million people. In nearly six years in power, Hamas has moved gradually, imposing some changes, such as banning women from smoking water pipes in public, but has rescinded decrees or stopped enforcing them if the public resisted.

Palestinians celebrate as they watch a screen showing the U.N. General Assembly votes on a resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state, In the west bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. The U.N. General Assembly has voted by a more than two-thirds majority to recognize the state of Palestine. The resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by the 193-member world body late Thursday by a vote of 138-9 with 41 abstentions. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians erupted in wild cheers Thursday, hugging each other, setting off fireworks and chanting “God is great” after the United Nations granted them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for — a state of their own.

The historic General Assembly decision to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state won’t immediately change lives here, since much of the territory of that state — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — remains under Israeli control.

Yet many Palestinians savored the massive global recognition — 138 of 193 General Assembly members voted “yes” — following decades of setbacks in the quest for Palestinian independence in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

“It’s a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only,” civil servant Mohammed Srour said standing in a flag-waving a crowd of more than 2,000 packed into a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state, particularly for us Palestinians who have lived under occupation for a long time.”

After the euphoria over the vote, Palestinians will return to their harsh reality. They lack most trappings of statehood, including control over borders, airspace or trade. In a further complication, they are ruled by rival governments, one run by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the other by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Yet, Palestinians say the recognition isn’t just symbolic and that U.N. recognition will strengthen their hand in future talks with Israel, which has lambasted the the Palestinian move as an attempt to bypas such negotiations.

The warm embrace by the international community could also help Abbas restore some of his domestic standing, which has been eroded by years of standstill in peace efforts. Hamas, entrenched in Gaza, has seen its popularity rise after holding its own during an Israeli offensive on targets linked to the Islamists there earlier this month.

After initially criticizing the U.N. bid as an empty gesture, Hamas has come around to supporting the popular move, with reservations.

Palestinians in the coastal strip also celebrated the vote, though on a smaller scale than after the massive eruption of joy in the streets after last week’s cease-fire deal with Israel.

Palestinians hold posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a rally supporting the Palestinian UN bid for observer state status, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. The Palestinians will request to upgrade their status on November 29. The status could add weight to Palestinian claims for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The expected U.N. vote Thursday to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic — it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.

The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept “Palestine,” on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a non-member observer state. They anticipate broad support.

For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.

The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying it’s an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.

The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Abbas told Burns it was too late.

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to back away from threats of drastic measures if the Palestinians get U.N. approval, with officials suggesting the government would take steps only if the Palestinians use their new status to act against Israel.

The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessors accepted the 1967 lines as a basis for border talks, with modifications to be negotiated, including land swaps that would enable Israel to annex some of the largest Jewish settlements. Those talks did not produce a deal, and the sides remained apart on other key issues.

Netanyahu rejects the 1967 lines as starting point while pressing ahead with settlement construction, leaving Abbas little incentive to resume negotiations. Israel goes to elections in January, and polls indicate Netanyahu has a strong chance of winning.

Israel argues that Abbas is trying to dictate the outcome of border talks by going to the U.N., though the recognition request presented to the world body calls for a quick resumption of negotiations on all core issues of the conflict, including borders.

It’s not clear if negotiations could resume even if Obama, freed from the constraints of his re-election campaign, can turn his attention to the Mideast conflict.

Abbas aides have given conflicting accounts of whether Abbas, once armed with global backing for the 1967 borders, will return to negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze. About half a million Israelis have settled on war-won land.

A construction stop is unlikely, even more so after hawks in Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored major gains in primaries this week.

Israel has said it is willing to resume talks without preconditions.

Government spokesman Mark Regev affirmed the position on Wednesday. Regev said that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians violate “both the spirit and the word of signed agreements to solve issues through negotiations.”

Palestinian officials countered that their historic U.N. bid is meant to salvage a peace deal they say is being sabotaged by Israeli settlement expansion. “It is a last-ditch effort because we believe the two-state solution is in jeopardy as a result of these actions,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, told reporters in Ramallah on Wednesday.

The Palestinians expect that at least two-thirds of the 193 member states in the General Assembly will support them on Thursday, including a number of European countries, among them France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland.

Those opposed or abstaining include the U.S., Israel, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. Ashrawi urged the U.S. to at least abstain, saying that voting no “would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world” and hurt American interests in the Middle East.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that “in the long term, this region can only find peace through negotiations to resolve the Middle East conflict,” but she did not say whether her country would abstain or vote against.

“Nothing will really be gained either by unilateral Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations which aim for recognition nor by Israel’s continued building of settlements,” she said.

The vote comes at an important time domestically for Abbas. His Hamas rivals, who control Gaza, have gained popularity after holding their own during an Israeli offensive there earlier this month, aimed at stopping frequent Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

During the Gaza offensive, Abbas was sidelined in his compound in the West Bank, underscoring international concerns that the deadlock in peace efforts is weakening Palestinian pragmatists. Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, argues that negotiations with Israel are a waste of time, but Hamas leaders have come out in support of the U.N. bid in recent days.

Other than creating leverage in negotiations, U.N. recognition would also allow the Palestinians to seek membership in U.N. agencies and international bodies, for example making them eligible for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Perhaps most significantly, it could open the door to a new attempt to join the International Criminal Court and seek an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the occupied territories.

Abbas’ self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally recognized the court’s jurisdiction in 2009 and pressed prosecutors to open an investigation into Israel’s previous Gaza offensive. Prosecutors noted at the time that the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, is only open to states. Israel has not signed the statute and does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

Ashrawi on Wednesday avoided explicit threats to take Israel to court, but suggested it’s an option. “If Israel refrains from settlement activities ... there is no immediate pressing need to go,” she said, adding that this could change if “Israel persists in its violations.”

Israel would respond “forcefully” if the Palestinians try to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC, said an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss policy considerations. If the Palestinians use their upgraded international status “as a tool to confront Israel in the international arena, there will be a response,” he said.

Until then, he said, Israel will be bound by its obligations to the Palestinians under existing peace agreements, but won’t necessarily go beyond them. Earlier there was talk of Israel retaliating by canceling partial peace accords dating back to the 1990s.

In the West Bank, the view of Abbas’ quest for recognition was mixed. Many were bitter, saying they’ve heard too many promises that statehood is near and don’t believe a nod from the U.N. will make a difference.

“Nothing will come of it,” said Arwa Abu Helo, a 23-year-old student in Ramallah. “It’s just a way of misleading the public.”

Yousef Mohammed, a bank teller, said Abbas was trying to “gain the spotlight after Hamas said it won in Gaza.”

Hurriyeh Abdel Karim, 65, said she was willing to give Abbas a chance. “If he succeeds, maybe our life improves,” she said.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.