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Refugee camp staged in UCC
By Raj Suppiah
The Western Arab Student's Association tried to raise awareness about the conditions of refugee prison camps in the Middle East in the University Community Centre yesterday.
"We are here to celebrate Palestinian Land Day," said Randa Mouammar, a fourth-year political science student and current VP-politics of the ASA. She noted 2001 marks the 25th anniversary of the annual rally that recognizes Palestinian struggle. According to Mouammar, Land Day is signalled by a nationwide Palestinian strike in Israel.
The 'mock refugee camp,' set up in the Atrium of the UCC by the ASA, consisted of a small tent with barbed wire surrounding it and a sign saying "This is not a home." Poems written by Muslim and Palestinian authors were also read by students within the 'camp.'
Mouammar said similar demonstrations were organized by Arab student associations at universities in Ottawa and Toronto. "This [demonstration] helps to remember the land and informs others of our situation," she said.
Rema El-Tawil, VP-internal of the ASA, said most of the refugee camps, primarily located in the West Bank of Gaza, lack proper sanitation and water systems.
"I have family in prison camps," she said. "It's not life, there is a denial of basic freedom and an abuse of human rights."
Mouammar said she thought the demonstration might incur a protest. "You always expect [protests] when it is a heated issue, but you can't do anything about it," she said.
Josh Shuval, president-elect of the Jewish Students' Union, said the JSU is aware of the significance of the day, but noted demonstrations such as yesterday's should be kept to a minimum. "Although the physical display [of a refugee camp] is concise, it does not show all sides of the story. Cases of human rights abuses have been reported on both sides."
He said he did have a problem with one aspect of the display, notably a map entitled 'The Palestinian Homeland,' adding it should preferably be called by its political name of Israel.
"I have received calls and complaints from students, Jewish and non-Jewish, saying this kind of rally is not needed and actually decreases campus culture," Shuval said. "It adds to tension that does not need to exist."
The ASA should draw attention to other problems Palestinians face, such as abuse of power and corruption within their own leadership, before focusing on international issues, he said.
Aiman Sayeed, a second-year Western administrative and commercial studies student, attended the demonstration and said that he found the mock refugee camp to be informative, adding it presents the Palestinian perspective to Western students.
Second-year biochemical engineering student, Shehab Mustafa, said he attended the event because he supports the right to "land, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all."