Students for Justice in Palestine and Owls for Israel raise awareness for children

Maddy Mesa

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Rayna Exbexlbierd, programming coordinator for Owls for Israel, speaks to Miles Corbalan, a senior interdisciplinary studies major, in front of effigies representing dead children at Students for Justice in Palestine's Gaza Children's Memorial outside the social science building Thursday, February 7. Owls for Israel passed out candy during SJP's event to raise awareness for child's healthcare in developing countries.

Rayna Exbexlbierd, programming coordinator for Owls for Israel, speaks to Miles Corbalan, a senior interdisciplinary studies major, in front of effigies representing dead children at Students for Justice in Palestine’s Gaza Children’s Memorial outside the social science building Thursday, February 7. Owls for Israel passed out candy during SJP’s event to raise awareness for child’s healthcare in developing countries. Photo By Ryan Murphy.

22 tiny “body bags” splattered with red paint lay in front of the SO buliding. Over 300 flags stood silently in the grass, representing the children who died during the conflict in Gaza.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, flags for a children’s memorial were placed on the free speech lawn, representing the children killed during Operation Cast Lead, a conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, and Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

The garbage bags were stuffed with Styrofoam and crumpled paper to represent how Palestinians bury their dead during a time of conflict, according to SJP member Gabi Aleksinko. “If you were in Gaza in time of conflict and, say, a house next to you collapses because of missile fire and you looked out your window as they were cleaning up, that is what you would see,” said Aleksinko, a senior majoring in intercultural relations and social science.

According to SJP, 30 children were killed during Operation Pillar Defense, a number also given by Gaza authorities to the BBC during the time of the operation.

In the Gaza War, also known as Operation Cast Lead, 352 of the casualties were children. But according to the Palestine Center of Human Rights, a pro-Palestinian site, 313 children died, while Israel Defense Forces stated that 89 of the casualties “were under the age of 16.”

“Some of them we don’t actually know their names, we just know they were children, so on the back of those [flags] we would have ‘Remembered not in name but in honor,’” said Aleksinko.

Flags placed by members of Students for Justice in Palestine on the free speech lawn representing children killed in Gaza feature names and ages of those killed on the back.

Flags placed by members of Students for Justice in Palestine on the free speech lawn representing children killed in Gaza feature names and ages of those killed on the back. Photo By Ryan Murphy.

At the same time SJP had their event, members of FAU’s Owls for Israel passed out candy to students for “Save a Child’s Heart” for Israel Awareness Month.

“We’re just spreading awareness about an organization called ‘Save a Child’s Heart,’” said Rayna Exelbierd, sophomore and international business major.

According to their website, “Save a Child’s Heart” is an “Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries.”

“We’re basically just trying to spread awareness of the great things that the organization does,” said Exelbierd, who is the programming coordinator for Owls for Israel.

She says February is Israel Awareness Month at FAU.

“It wasn’t until recently that we found out that this week was gonna be Gaza Awareness Week,” said Exelbierd. “But we still have plans to do activities. We’re definitely still continuing to do them and also attending their events as well.”

SJP planned their event last week through Student Affairs. Owls for Israel didn’t have to plan their event through Student Affairs because they were passing out candy.

“There is no rule about passing out candy on campus in terms of planning a program,” said Exelbierd. “This isn’t so much an actual event as much as it is just to spread awareness and just bring a little information to people’s days.”

Over 300 Palestinian flags litter the free speech lawn outside the social science building. The flags represent children killed in Gaza.

Over 300 Palestinian flags litter the free speech lawn outside the social science building. The flags represent children killed in Gaza. Photo By Ryan Murphy.

Other events Owls for Israel have planned for Israel Awareness Month include a tasting of Israeli chocolates at Hillel on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. as well as a dinner on Feb. 28 at 6:00 p.m. where students and professors can talk about Israel.

Some members of SJP were upset that Owls for Israel had stopped by during their event to pass out candy.

“They are right now seeking out people who come to pay their respects for the children and they are trying to distract them from the purpose for what we are trying to do,” said Aleksinko. “They have no authority to be here as a group. This is not an event for them, this is our event and we just think this is extremely disrespectful because this is a memorial. This is not a place for debate. This is a memorial sight.”

Some of the students who walked by were intrigued by the display.

“It was intense walking up to it because you can tell that it’s meant to be like a little body, and in a way, kind of disturbing but very interesting,” said junior elementary education major Alana Goldberg. “It’s interesting because you hear about the Palestinians through the news, and to read the facts of the deaths, especially with children, it’s mind-blowing that that many kids died and we didn’t hear about it.”

Other passerby liked what both clubs were doing to raise awareness for their causes.

“I think it’s a pretty good way to combine them and mix them together so people get two different sides of the story,” said Goldberg. “I think it’s a pretty good combo of what both organizations are doing.”