As Jewish student leaders played music, sold food and brought camels to showcase Israeli culture Tuesday, Palestinian counter-protesters marched up and down Speedway chanting and waving signs.
The annual Israel Block Party is a student-led event sponsored by Texas Hillel, a Jewish community organization for students. The Palestine Solidarity Committee, a Palestinian activist group, protested what they say is Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory throughout the event.
Ethan Robinson, cochair of the event and supply chain management junior, said the event is important in changing perceptions of Israel, given the ongoing violence in the country.
“I think that Israel is a very misunderstood country,” Robinson said. “People hear things in the news that are very negative coverage, and a lot of students in Texas are actually very passionate and care a lot about what Israel has to offer … and seeing so many people engaged in Israeli activities, it brings that to light.”
International business junior Shira Hovav said she grew up traveling back and forth from the U.S. and Israel to visit her family and is glad to see her culture represented on campus.
“Especially for the Jewish community, it’s important for us to share our culture and country with the community so they can understand our food, our music and the innovation that we have to offer,” Hovav said. “I personally have very strong connections with the land. When I am there, I feel most at home.”
The PSC marched down Speedway in front of the event with chants such as “Up with liberation, down with occupation;” “Occupation, endless war. We know what your party is for;” and “Free Palestine.” PSC’s protests focused on the larger abuses of Palestinian people by the Israeli government, according to fliers the group passed out.
Rami Shaibani, a PSC member and health and society junior, said he is not Palestinian but believes Israeli aggression and occupation has stretched beyond its borders into his home country of Syria. He said he believes the Israel Block Party appropriates Palestine culture and erases the conflict.
“Unless we come out here to speak out, people are going to see this party, they are trying to have all this extravagance in order to distract you from what is really going on,” Shaibani said. “What you see is what you know, so having some sort of media bias or only hearing one side, you don’t have the necessary information to formulate a proper opinion.”