The Georgetown Israel Alliance celebrated the 61st anniversary of Israeli independence on Wednesday with a party in Sellinger Lounge co-sponsored by the Jewish Student Association. A group comprised of students from the Center of Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, held a silent protest in the hallway across from Sellinger Lounge, according to Elise Garofalo (COL ’12), vice-president of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The celebration, which included Israeli music, food and facts on the walls, was meant to celebrate the country’s culture and history, said Merav Levkowitz (SFS ’11) and Ariell Zimran (SFS ’10), co-Presidents of GIA, in an e-mail. Rabbi Harold White, senior Jewish chaplain, spoke at the event about Georgetown’s connection to Israel and the significance of the Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 21.

“Above, all GIA’s celebration of Israeli Independence Day showcases Israeli culture (e.g., food and music) and allows students to learn more about a country with many values that parallel those of the United States, such as liberal democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among others,” Levkowitz and Zimran said.

The event was intended as a celebration not only of Israeli accomplishments and culture, but also of its history.

“You can often forget the importance of Israel,” Mike Begner, an exchange student from Kings College, London, said. “We were an exiled people. To actually have a country to call our own is really an enlightening story.”

The event had over 200 attendees and garnered a silent protest from about 50 undergraduate and graduate students.

“We wanted to remember the fact that Palestinian refugees in 1948 lost their country, their homeland, their property and their dignity. They have no reason to be celebrating the 61st anniversary of their displacement,” Garofalo said. “So, while we respect GIA’s right to celebrate, we wanted to make sure the event shed light on both sides of the conflict.”

The protestors held signs with slogans such as, “61 Years a Refugee” and “Israeli Independence = 4,000,000 Palestinian Refugees.”

Raffoul Saadeh (SFS ’12), who helped organize the protest, said that as a devoted Palestinian, he felt obliged to protest the celebration of Israel’s independence.

“It is not a time for the Georgetown Israel Alliance or even Israel itself to be celebrating such an event because Israel has not taken responsibility for its unacceptable actions,” he said. “Israel today stands with glory as they continuously violate UN resolutions and commit atrocious war crimes.”

Some students attending the celebration felt that the protest was out of place because the GIA presidents intended it to be a non-political event.

“They absolutely have a right to express their views,” said Andrew Levine (COL ’11), co-president of the Jewish Student Association. “I feel like the best progress is made through a dialogue at the right place at the right time; not on your birthday. We don’t get much dialogue out of a silent protest.”

For one protestor, graduate student Omar Shakir (GRD GM), the celebratory nature of the event did not leave a place for discussion.

“If they wanted to have a dialogue, the format would have been different; if they were willing to acknowledge Israel’s responsibility for Palestinian displacement and the equal rights of Palestinians, we would have happily engaged with them and participated in the event,” Shakir said.

For those attending the GIA event, the night was ultimately more about celebrating the positive aspects of Israel, Levine said.

“We’re not trying to do things like propaganda,” Levine said. “We’re just celebrating the good things about it and its right to exist. At the same time, we do recognize those who are hurt by it.”

Israel gained independence in 1948. According to Reuters, Palestinian refugees account for nearly 4.5 million of the world’s refugee population as of June 2008.

Click here for information on last year’s 60th anniversary of Israeli independence.

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