Valley People for Peace
MVPP continues to
discuss issues between Palestinians and Israelis.
A longer statement
is at the bottom of this page, copied
from the February 2004 newsletter.
articles by the Boston Globe and Lawrence Eagle Tribune copied here for easy reference.
Some MVPP people were in the audience, and find these two articles pretty acurate, except that where it is said the crowd grew vocal, we might say the side trying to listen was not nearly as vocal as those opposed. Also, some on both sides were from out of town. We have a lot of work ahead of us to counteract the misinformation, anger, fear, and hate that was present in the room..
ANDOVER -- The social studies teachers say they merely wanted to provide their students different perspectives about conflict in the Middle East when they invited a group with a history of condemning Israel's treatment of Palestinians to speak at Andover High School.
The teachers never expected that their invitation to the group Wheels of Justice would set off the firestorm that has ensued, pitting student against student, teacher against teacher, and rabbi against minister in this affluent suburb north of Boston.
The climate at the high school has grown hostile, students say, as friends argue over how to balance the right to hear all views with sensitivity to individual beliefs. One Jewish teacher said two colleagues harassed her when she refused to sign a petition to bring in the Wisconsin-based group. Many parents are supporting the teachers who invited the group, which spoke to social studies classes on Friday. But more than 50 others who opposed the group's appearance formed a "Committee Against Hate Speech in School."
The debate highlights the struggle faced by school systems to teach students to think critically about explosive world events without alienating the communities they serve.
"This is an issue that is surrounded by emotion, and it's easy to lose sight of some aspect of what the event might actually be," said Peter Anderson, principal of Andover High. "In this day and age, the most important thing we do is to teach students to be intelligently critical."
This week, in an attempt to ease some of the tensions, Anderson plans to invite a second set of speakers with a different view of the strife between Palestinians and Israelis.
The controversy over Wheels of Justice erupted into a shouting match Friday night during a public presentation by the group arranged by Anderson.
Andover, a town of 33,000, prides itself on its town-meeting style of governance, where everyone has a voice and a vote, and more than 200 people crowded into the high school library for the 90-minute presentation Friday evening. But Anderson threatened to cut the forum short when parents and community members began interrupting and shouting at the speakers 15 minutes into the first speech.
"This is pure propaganda," a man shouted as Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian American and medical geneticist who helps coordinate the group, addressed the crowd.
"You're a liar," another yelled to Qumsiyeh, after he compared Israel to South Africa's former apartheid state.
Jake Lebowitz, 14, a freshman who attended the evening forum, said the controversial subject should not have been featured in school without an opposing group at the same time to strike a balance.
"This just sparks argument and hate," he said in an interview.
Wheels of Justice travels around the country sharing first-hand accounts of what Qumsiyeh called human rights abuse in the Middle East.
But Qumsiyeh has angered Jewish groups around the nation by referring to the establishment of Israel as ethnic cleansing.
The two social studies teachers, Tom Meyers and Patrick Patterson, had invited Wheels of Justice to speak in October at Andover High, which has 1,800 students. The teachers felt the visit would help students understand bias and the power of language as they learned more about conflict in the Middle East. Other teachers planned to have the group address their classes as well.
But Anderson abruptly canceled the scheduled appearance after some parents and members of the Jewish community protested what they called the group's anti-Semitic message. Others defended the group's right to speak and threatened a lawsuit through the American Civil Liberties Union. Last month, Anderson changed his mind and agreed to allow the speakers.
Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein of Temple Emanual, Andover's largest synagogue, had tried to get the school to ban the group. Unsuccessful, he held a forum last week to inform students of the views of the Anti-Defamation League, which provides information about Israel advocacy and responds to anti-Semitism.
The Rev. Ralph Galen, minister of Andover's Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a member of Merrimack Valley People for Peace, said Goldstein's stance against Wheels of Justice has disappointed him.
"The situation in the Middle East is so complex that it's already at a boiling point," said Galen, who helped bring The Wheels of Justice to neighboring North Andover two years ago with less resistance. "It just pushes us over and it's so hard to maintain our rationality, but we must."
Some students, even those who disagreed with the views of the Wheels of Justice speakers, said they appreciated that they and the town had a chance to hear the group.
"A lot of people are set in their Andover bubble, and parents are uncomfortable that their kids could be exposed to something like this," said Laila Shaby, a sophomore who is Jewish and emphasized her pro-Israel position. "Turning them away would be denying the students' reality. We're going to have to deal with it some day."
Eddie Troy, 15, a sophomore whose social studies class Wheels of Justice addressed, said a few of his classmates challenged the speakers and asked about the organization's ties to groups that advocate Palestinian armed struggle.
Meyers, one of the teachers who invited the group, said he had hoped exposure to Wheels of Justice would spark his students to think critically about people's perceptions of their life experiences.
"I want kids to know that you have people from the same region of the world dealing with similar issues with different perspectives," Meyers said. "I want them to see how groups of people may deny the realities and perceptions of somebody else."
Mary Robb , who teaches a class on democracy and media literacy, had her students write a paper about what they observed during the Wheels of Justice presentation and whether they felt it accurately reflected events in the Middle East. Robb said the controversy sparked such a healthy debate that the social studies department plans to start an annual forum for controversial speakers.
Some parents support this view.
"We talk about these things at home and we try to make our kids appreciate different perspectives on any issue to prepare them for going out in the world," said Tom Boshar , whose daughter is a senior at Andover.
Others in the community remain unsure about the educational value of the Wheels of Justice visit.
"When you introduce a subject like that into the classroom environment, students have a tendency to take it as academic truth," said Vincent Davey, 80, a retired high school English teacher.
Larry Bruce, who is Jewish, said his daughter, a 10th-grader, stayed home from school Friday "in support for her faith," even though she was not in a class scheduled to hear the speakers.
"I personally have concerns for her safety and for any anti-Semitic backlash this is going to bring," Bruce said. "Up until now, I was proud to be in this community as a Jew."
Anderson suggested that the controversy could lay the groundwork for future discussions about current events.
"Five years from now, it could be North and South Korea producing the same kind of vested, emotional response," he said.
Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Globe correspondent Dan Tuohy contributed to this report.
By Crystal Bozek ,
Staff Writer Saturday, 1/6/2007
What they got instead was a mini civil war.
Many adults in the audience of more than 150 people taunted and laughed at the speakers from the pro-Palestinian group known as Wheels of Justice, who spoke about human rights abuses among Israelis and Palestinians and the violent Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. They showed slides of crying Palestinian children and a video of Israelis demolishing the homes of Palestinians.
The group made it through its whole presentation with few interruptions, but the room erupted into shouting and heckling during the question and answer session.
"They're liars," Somerville resident Gregory Solomon yelled at the speakers. "How can anyone believe them?"
One Wheels of Justice speaker was surprised by the outbursts.
"We've spoken to 200 high schools in the United States," said Mazin Qumsiyeh, as shouts echoed throughout the room. "We've spoken to a school in New York that was 80 percent Jewish, and had no problems. I really don't understand."
The crowd became so vocal that Principal Peter Anderson had to cut the event short, drawing complaints from a group of students in attendance.
"I couldn't even hear what they were saying half the time because ladies in front of me kept giggling," 17-year-old Lauren Hartel said. "The parents were so rude, I couldn't get anything out of it."
Some of the adults said Wheels of Justice is an extremist, anti-Israel organization.
"You've created a hostile environment in the high school," said Pam Lebowitz of Andover. "That's reckless behavior on the school's part. They invited an extreme hate group here and they didn't give time to the other side."
The group's visit is part of a series of forums on Middle East conflicts at Andover High, which Principal Peter Anderson announced last month. Anderson had called off a planned visit by Wheels of Justice in October, but he reversed his decision after teachers union President Tom Meyers threatened a First Amendment lawsuit. Students will hear from Middle East scholars from Harvard University next week.
During the day yesterday, Wheels of Justice speakers visited high school classrooms. The speakers went to six social studies classes, and only students in those classes could attend, although they were allowed to opt out of the presentations if they chose.
"Students asked a variety of questions, and I thought there was great discourse," Meyers said. "Both sides were respectful. There were some folks who disagreed, and that's exactly what we would expect."
That wasn't the case last night.
School Committee member David Samuels got the crowd going when he asked why Wheels of Justice members had gathered the e-mails and phone numbers of students in the social studies classes, which he said was illegal. His question prompted a round of shouting from audience members, and an apology of sorts from Samuels after the event.
"I meant to make it more civil," he said to a couple of teachers after watching the event come to a halt. "I screwed up."
Anderson said he confiscated the list and will send out letters asking for parents' permission to use the students' names.
But Anderson was taken aback by last night's crowd.
"I did not anticipate that level of emotion and hostility," he said. "All day was uneventful, no incidents at all inside the classrooms."
An anticipated protest or court injunction by parents and a walkout by students scheduled for the school day yesterday never happened.
But students were unhappy with the response from adults.
Senior Colin Hopkins said the parents acted foolishly in the weeks leading up to the presentation.
"They don't think we have our own thoughts," he said. "That we can't tell what's fact and what's propaganda. I'm 18. I'm able to vote, but they treat me like I can't make my own learning experiences."
Rustin Zarkar, 17, added: "We can have open discussion with someone, even if it's one-sided or biased."
Physics teacher Ron Francis, who helped organize the event, said he was happy students got to see the First Amendment in action.
"They got to hear a viewpoint not presented in the mainstream media," he said. "They've heard the other side."
Three police cruisers idled near the school's front entrance, and despite the heckling, officers never entered the library. Police had asked some residents standing outside before the event to put signs away.
Staff reporter Colin
Steele contributed to this story.
In June 2002, Israel began building a line of fences and walls through
Palestine's West Bank, a wall designed to physically separate Palestinians
and Israelis from one another. While the Israeli government insists that
they are building the wall as a "security barrier", it veers
deeply into the West Bank to protect Israeli settlements instead of closely
following the Green Line. When completed, the wall will in effect annex
nearly 50 per cent of the West Bank to Israel. Israel has used the wall's
construction to take over the lands of dozens of Palestinian communities,
trapping Palestinians in open-air prisons reminiscent of apartheid South
Africa and depriving them of access to their livelihoods, markets, hospitals,
Americans for Peace Now in Israel
Israeli-Palestinian Action Groups For Peace:
Other Israel-Palestine Issues (Some links don't always work)
Con/Pro Letters to the Editor in
the Andover Townsman after November 22.
from Holocaust survivor, 2/17/04: Hedy Epstein of St. Louis is
a Holocaust survivor, Holocaust educator and longtime civil rights and
peace activist. Her story is featured in the Academy Award winning documentary,
"Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport."
People for Peace meets monthly, on the fourth Tuesday,
Merrimack Valley People for Peace (978) 685-1389
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