Some 100 Arab and Jewish students held opposing demonstrations on Wednesday at Haifa University as Arab students gathered to mark the newly christened "Kaffiyah Day." A scuffle between the two groups was avoided only after campus security guards intervened. A similar protest was also held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
"Kaffiyah Day" was declared by national Arab student organizations following an incident earlier in November in which an Arab student wearing a kaffiyah at the Hebrew University was assaulted by a group of Jewish students.
The Arab protestors in Haifa arrived at demonstration wearing the traditional headscarves. They chanted slogans and waved the Palestinian flag. The opposing demonstration held Israeli flags and sang the national anthem. Campus security was eventually forced to separated the groups or risk an escalation in the tensions.
Chairman of the University's Hadash students club, Rabiyah Shaa'ir, said "there is no reason an Arab student should be attacked for wearing this traditional garb on campus. We reject the racist behavior of the Jewish students who tried to make him take off the kaffiyah."
Freshman student Eva Biton told Ynet she was shocked to see Palestinian flags on a Jewish-Israeli campus: "I come from France where I witnessed many similar demonstrations. I didn't believe that I will see these flags in Israel."
Tension at the Hebrew University
Arab and Jewish students faced off in Jerusalem as well as tensions continue to rise on the Hebrew University campus. Earlier in the week a large-scale fight broke out between the two groups.
"These students are the future of the Israeli-Arab sector," said Ali Baher, chairman of the Arab students' board in Jerusalem.
"We need a generation of people who stand up for their rights and fight for their beliefs. We have a right to express our opinion, study here and confront those who don't want us."
The counter-protest was organized by Haifa University's Student's Union. Shai Panini, Chairman of the Union, said: "I cannot grasp the holding of a rally for the memory of a man (Yasser Arafat, who singlehandedly turned the kaffiyah into an enduring Palestinian icon) whose name brings revulsion to every Israeli citizen. I call on Haifa University not to allow rallies like these from now on for the sake of the fragile coexistance at Haifa University."
Sa'ar Ziv, Spokesperson of the Union, added that "while no violation of freedom of speech took place, raillies of hatred and slander must not take place under the protection of free speech. We are shocked by the presence of such protests, which take place every year. Despite the Student's Right Law, we don't understand how the University allows such a thing. This is not what the law was designed to allow."
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report