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3 students arrested in Gaza protest

January 23, 2009

When three college students gathered Thursday outside the office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., they were hoping to speak with Levin about his support of Israel. Instead, they were arrested.

The arrested students — MSU anthropology junior Ahlam Mohsen and Ferris State University students Max Kantar and Patrick Daly — were part of a group of five who organized a sit-in at Levin’s office. They arrived around noon and refused to leave until they spoke with Levin and he met their demands, Mohsen said.

The group’s demands included taking steps toward cutting off military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel and calling for an international investigation of Israeli war crimes.

The students were asked to leave by staff, security and police when the building closed at 5:30 p.m., but they refused and were taken away in handcuffs around 6 p.m., Mohsen said.

“The reason we didn’t take them up on their offer was we maintained our simple stance the whole time; we weren’t going to leave until we spoke with Levin,” said Kantar, an international studies and sociology junior. “If we had left voluntarily, it would have made our goal less serious.”

The students were protesting Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, which was in response to Hamas, the Palestinian authority in Gaza, firing rockets into Israel. Since the conflict was reignited, 1,285 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed, according to The Associated Press.

The students were taken to Lansing’s city lockup. Mohsen and Kantar were bailed out that night, and Daly was bailed out the next morning, Kantar said.

Lansing police did not return phone calls seeking comment Sunday.

International relations sophomore Geoff Levin, an Israel advocacy intern for the Hillel Jewish Student Center, said it was the students’ right to protest, but he said he was surprised there was a protest against Israel.

“The majority of Americans would disapprove if the U.S. supported Hamas, which was considered a terrorist organization,” he said. “This is the difference between supporting a legitimate government and supporting a terrorist organization.”

Mohsen said the students had been trying to reach Sen. Levin by phone and e-mail for several weeks and received no response.

David Lyles, Levin’s chief of staff, released a statement saying Levin was unable to arrange a phone call “without prior notice with the people
who came to his Lansing office.”

“Sen. Levin appreciates the right of people to express their views on issues, and welcomes those views when he receives them,” Lyles said in a prepared statement.

“We’re still demanding that Levin speak with us,” Mohsen said. “They gave us the number to call to set up a time to speak with him … if that doesn’t follow through, we’ll come together to decide what further action to take.”

The students have a court date in early February for trespassing charges, Kantar said. The misdemeanor offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

“I don’t think it will come down to that,” Kantar said.

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