Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Week Chock Full of the Middle East

Right, so… since last Wednesday there has been a lot of things going on in Cambridge related to the Middle East. There was a talk on Friday evening by someone from ‘Jews for Justice for Palestine’ in the Cambridge Union, which I attended. There weren’t as many people there as I expected, but that was probably due to another event about the Middle East on the same night. And later on the ‘occupation’ in Cambridge started. You might have heard how similar occupations happened in other UK universities, in which the students occupied a certain place in the university and made demands for the university to take actions in the recent Gaza conflict.

In Cambridge, they occupied the Law Faculty. It was peaceful, of course, and there aren’t just Muslims or Arab students taking part. In fact, last Tuesday there was a reunion of my former school (the UWC’s, to be precise) and somebody suggested that we should meet up at the occupation and take part in it, since it is the sort of thing UWC students get involved in anyway. We didn’t go in the end but it’s good to know a lot of people are aware of these sorts of things going on. As for the occupation itself, I felt quite uncomfortable with using this method to get the university to accept the demands, but I think that’s obviously not the point. They are basically taking the piss out of the real occupation, drawing attention to it and proving to people how annoying an occupation can be to the people being occupied. Of course, ‘annoying’ is putting it really mildly.

Yesterday night there was a talk organized by the Israeli Society titled “Understanding Israel” at King’s College. I went there with an open mind to find out the Israeli perspectives on this issue, but to be honest, I don’t think the speaker convinces me that much. She mentioned that Israel has a right to defend itself from the thousands of ‘warheads’ and ‘missiles’ being launched for the past eight years, but she didn’t put this into context. She didn’t mention that not all of them were unprovoked attacks and she also didn’t mention the decrease of rockets in the ceasefire. The gist of her talk is basically that Israel has exhausted its means and now has to resort to war to defend its citizens. I very much doubted the ‘exhausted its means’ bit, but still, assuming that Israel does have a right to defend itself, it doesn’t mean they have a free permit to do whatever they like.

Just as an exaggerated analogy, if let’s say in school you have been bullied for some time by somebody, then you fighting back is probably understandable. But retaliating by say, maiming or killing the person is definitely overstepping the bounds. The same applies here. You may started out by saying that you’re defending yourself but you reacted using bigger violence and at some point you’ve crossed the line and what you did is not justifiable anymore.

Today there was an event called ‘Phonecall to Gaza’ in which basically we called the Head of the United Nations Development Programme in Gaza to ask about the situation there. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good… with people dead, injured and infrastructures destroyed. I asked him the question, “What is Israel doing to help rebuild Gaza?” The answer he gave was “Nothing.” He even mentioned that some of the aids supplies can’t get through because of the constraints that are imposed by Israel in getting them across the border.

So there you go. A lot of things happened this week. I think there’s one more next Monday about a debate on one-state vs. two-state solution, and I’ll probably go to that one.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Gaza Protest and Cambridge 800th Anniversary

On Saturday at noon, there was a protest in front of the Cambridge Guildhall about Palestine and the events in Gaza. It was a peaceful protest, obviously, and there weren’t just Arabs and Muslims holding the banners. They were all chanting, “Free Palestine” and after an hour, the protestors marched along the streets of Cambridge. I’m very delighted that there are people in Cambridge who make their voices heard about the massacre that’s happening.

Behind the protest lines:

In the evening, the Cambridge 800th anniversary celebration started. Pictures were being projected onto the Senate House walls and the St Mary’s Church bells are rung. The rings are composed by a Cambridge alumnus, though to my untrained ears they don’t sound any different compared to normal bell rings. There was a huge crowd, with old people, students, and little kids on their parents’ shoulders. The light show was on repeat about every ten minutes so even though it’s crowded, people are coming and leaving all the time and I was able to watch the whole of it, though of all the pictures, the only one I understand well is the one of Newton sitting under an apple tree.

Yeah, the fence is somewhat getting in my way.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Start of Term, 800th Anniversary Preparation and Gaza

So on Thursday morning, the Lent term kicks off with three hours worth of lectures. What a way to get into term mode and distinguish the illusion that we can still relax a bit.

The night before, I went to King’s College for a fundraising event about Gaza. On the way, I saw some things being projected on the Senate House. It turns out that Cambridge will start its 800th anniversary celebration this Saturday and there will be some bell ringing at the St Mary’s church (with the rings being composed by a Cambridge alumnus) and some light shows as well, with pictures related to Cambridge achievements being shown on the Senate House walls. So on Wednesday night they were setting up the projector equipments and everything… and here’s a glimpse of it:

Now, on to some more serious world issue… the events in Gaza are of course unforeseen, for us Cambridge students at least. However, ISOC (that’s the Cambridge Islamic Society) was brilliantly swift in organizing a fundraising event. On the Wednesday night, there was a film showing titled ‘Occupation 101’, which is an award winning documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, followed by a talk by the chairman of Interpal. There were also stalls selling food made in Palestine, and the profits will go towards aids for Palestinians.

Of course, on a short notice, ISOC only managed to book a venue that can hold about 150 people. The turnout, however, was amazing with about 200 plus people showing up. Partway through the film showing, the King’s porters came and asked for some of the audience to leave the hall for health and safety reason, since it was quite crammed. They were very nice about it, though. As an ISOC member, I had to give up my seat since the priority is to reach out to the general people who want to know more about the conflict. It was alright, though, because when the film was resumed the Interpal chairman gave an informal talk and Q&A session just outside for the people who had to leave the hall.

I think the reason why I went to the event was that I have met a lot of obnoxious people. Granted, most of them are anonymous commenters on the internet (and we all know how everybody, including uninformed ignorants can spout nonsense on the internet) but it sure is annoying to see them freely spewing out words like terrorists and anti-semites around. It’s irritating, but I don’t think I have enough knowledge to provide effective counter-arguments, so that’s why I’m going to these events.

I mentioned the Gaza fundraising event to a Korean friend of mine during lunch today. What started as a simple mention escalated into a discussion about Middle East, sustainability, free market, voting, and the US political scene. For someone who is considered quite apathetic about world issues, that sure is the most socio-politically intensive lunch I’ve ever experienced.

Well, now excuse me while I put the weight of the world off my shoulders for a while and focus on the next fluids mechanics example sheet like a normal chemical engineering student.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Happy New Year

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s the 8th already, but surely it’s not very late yet. So we’ve shed 2008 away and welcomed a new year, new low temperature for the UK, new Lent term at Cambridge, new HSBC credit card (heh heh)... and so on. Cambridge is being populated again and I started to see some familiar faces around, though certainly not all. For example, our friend the Chronophage is still on holiday:

Juhan, a friend of mine asked me what my resolutions are. Well, I don’t have any, but there are things that I want to do and achieve in the year, like trying to be fitter for the upcoming winter and summer volleyball cuppers. While we were discussing this, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I was made to sign a declaration saying that I will try and do 63 consecutive push-ups at some point to show that I’ve achieved my goal. Drat! Now that it’s in writing I can’t squirm my way out of it.

Oh well. To the gym/pool/other fitness places we go then. Have fun fulfilling your New Year resolutions too!