At approximately 12:25 a.m. on Friday, May 20, the Irvine Fire Department and the UCI Police Department responded to a call made by a Student Center employee informing them of a fire next to the flagpole turnabout. The incident also received attention by some major media outlets such as ABC and FOX.
When deputies arrived they extinguished a six by 10-foot Anti-Zionist mural created by the Society of Arab Students in honor of their fourth-annual Anti-Zionist week.
All that remained after the mural was extinguished were wet ashes.
No suspects in connection to the fire have been identified by the UCIPD as of press time.
‘We don’t know who did it so we don’t want to name any names but the people who did this are afraid of the truth and by those who want to silence the justified Palestinian cause,’ said Nabil Atalla, a third-year international studies major and member of SAS.
According to SAS, the mural, created entirely out of cardboard boxes and paint, was erected on Monday, May 17 depicting images of Palestinian children being terrorized, the remains of Palestinian homes after demolition by Israeli troops and a map of the wall in the West Bank.
The mural also included posters with quotes from Nelson Mandela and one with John Lennon saying ‘give peace a chance.’
According to third-year international studies major and SAS member Ramy Ballout, the wall had been pushed down early Thursday morning.
As a result of the incident, ‘some of the pictures were ripped, like the Mandela and Lennon ones,’ Ballout said.
Later that afternoon the club hosted a ‘mock Israeli checkpoint’ in the free speech area which, according to them, intended to show the daily plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
According to Adam Sabet, a third-year political science major and SAS member, the mock checkpoints were supposed to represent how Israeli troops dehumanize Palestinians trying to move from one refugee camp to the other.
These checkpoints placed sporadically near the West Bank and Gaza separate towns from refugee camps. Major checkpoints currently standing include Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and some in Eastern Jerusalem. The mock checkpoints setup by SAS were to show how Palestinians are mistreated by Israeli officials.
Sabet said that while the mock checkpoint was going on members from AFI who were manning a club booth nearby chanted words like ‘check for a bomb’ and sang parts of the Israeli national anthem.
Merav Ceren, second-year biology major and president of Anteaters for Israel agreed that those were the actions the club took but that the song they were chanting was a song for peace that could be understood in both Hebrew and Arabic.
‘Those checkpoints save lives,’ Ceren said. ‘A myth that is pushed is that the purpose of those checkpoints is to humiliate people but they’re really there to protect every single person, Israeli or Arab.’
While members of SAS say they do not know who burned the wall, AFI denies any involvement with the incident.
‘We have no idea who did it,’ Ceren said. ‘I am currently contacting them and letting them know that this destruction is not OK and that we fully support their First Amendment rights. This is not what Anteaters for Israel stands for.’
Ballout said there were mild confrontations between SAS and Anteaters for Israel while the mock checkpoint occurred.
‘We wanted to show the reality of the situation and how the Palestinians are treated as animals,’ Ballout said.
According to SAS, their members were on one side of the checkpoint while members of Anteaters for Israel were on the other.
Osama Abul Jebain, fourth-year political science major and president of SAS, said that although the club generally does not have a good relationship with AFI, there are still a few members who they can engage in dialogue.
‘Our views of the situation are on different poles,’ Jebain said.
Ballout had asked members of AFI earlier in the week if they had been involved with the wall being pushed over.
‘They said they had no idea,’ Ballout said. ‘I reiterated with them that no members of SAS would ever ruin anything of theirs.’
Fourth-year international studies major and secretary of SAS Karla Lopez saw the act as having affirmed the goals of the week.
‘This wall was torn down but now what really needs to happen is the tearing of the wall in the West Bank,’ Lopez said.
Ballout said that the club has never had conflict with AFI in the past.
‘We’ve never had anything like this happen before between the groups and we never expected it now,’ Ballout said.
Ceren expressed sympathy to the group as well as the need to find the person or persons that were involved in the burning of the wall.
Eric Rosenthal, a second-year law student at UC Davis and the 2004-05 UC Student Regent, also commented on the situation.
As former president of Hillel at UCLA and supporter of Arab-Palestinian dialogue groups, Rosenthal encouraged both groups to engage in talks before entering the political arena.
‘When I did work with [Arab students] it was through dialogue that we were able to reach common ground,’ Rosenthal said. ‘Before politics you must talk friendship.’