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    Pro-Israel UF group has sit-in

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 22, 2002

    GAINESVILLE -- Nearly 300 University of Florida students staged a sit-in Monday afternoon to protest a pro-Palestinian group that urged students to boycott companies that do business with Israel.

    Armed with signs declaring "My child will not be a suicide bomber," pro-Israel supporters faced off against Nakba '48, a group whose name is the Arabic word for "catastrophe," and refers to the birth of Israel in May 1948.

    "As a Jew in the United States, it's pretty difficult to see that kind of support" for Palestinians, said Danie Grey, a spokeswoman for Gators for Israel. "We found that this is the most peaceful way to demonstrate."

    Turlington Plaza at the center of campus, once a common setting for political activism, was a sea of blue pro-Israel shirts during the hourlong rally. "A grass-roots demonstration like this, it's been awhile, said Lohse Beeland, director of Student Activities. "I like it."

    While protesters waved flags and sang the Israeli national anthem, Nakba members doled out literature to students milling about between classes.

    "They have freedom of speech, they are allowed to do what they want,"said Nakba president Rifk Ebeid, who said Monday's event was held to inform how American companies help fund Israeli weapons. The group is urging a boycott of 25 U.S. companies that support Israel.

    Monday was the start of Nakba's Palestine Awareness Week, which will feature speakers, videos and a mock checkpoint where two students dressed as Israeli guards will rigorously search participants.

    Gators for Israel members said they thought they got their message across during Monday's rally and do not plan further protests.

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