The spiral of violence in the Middle East has sparked demonstrations across the United States, for and against both sides in the conflict. Pro-Palestinian rallies were held last week on many college campuses, including the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Two bright green tents stood silently on the lawn just outside the Student Union as students filed by on their way to class. A Palestinian flag hung on one of the tents, an American flag on the other.
A yellow smiley face balloon strung between the tents fluttered in the breeze. An orange extension cord ran from a nearby light pole, past the plastic jugs of water and orange juice, and into the nearest tent.
Inside, demonstration organizer Achmed Ismael called the tents a visible remainder of the current violence in the Middle East. He said, "It's much better than having a booth or a table somewhere inside where it will not be noticeable. And we decided to carry on by shifts - some will leave for class, others will stay."
There are only about a dozen Palestinian students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Several slept in the tents every night. The tents attracted little attention. Most people just walked on by, but some stopped to ask about the protest.
Linda Ruchala teaches accounting at the university. She said, "I think we [Americans] haven't been strong enough in support of the right for a Palestinian state and I think we need to be much stronger."
"I wish something stronger would be done because what's going on in the Middle East right now is not right at all. What the Israelis are doing is immoral, and it should not be allowed under any circumstance," said Walid Machlab, a senior electrical engineering major from Spain.
Protest organizer Achmed Ismael said he and the other demonstrators appreciated the support they received, especially from other foreign students. But he said he wishes Americans knew more about the Middle East. "It seems that everybody else worldwide is pretty much knowledgeable about what is going on and how the U.S. is involved," he said. "Students sometimes stop and ask, 'Why do you protest here in America?' - as if all this killing that has been done has not been made by the American free military aid to Israel. They didn't know, they just don't know, and this is really sad."
Freshman Tareq Abu-Kwaik said the conflict is not about religion, but about politics. And, the Palestinian student says, the only hope for peace is for the fighting, on both sides, to stop. "Some things might change after stopping the war," he said. "It won't change by killing people. After they stop then they can discuss and see what's happening."
After camping out near the student union for a week, the students took down their tents and went back to the dorms. Organizer Achmed Ismael said they wanted to do more, but with the semester ending, they had to get ready for final exams.