Israeli Block Party provides annual celebration, annual protest


Computer science senior Ali Khan speaks at the Palestinian-rights protest of Israel Block Party on Monday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

For the 16th year in a row, students celebrated Israeli culture at a block party on the East Mall on Monday, while, right across Speedway, dozens of students yelled and chanted in protest of the event, as they have almost every year since the block party’s inception.

Student leaders at both the Israel Block Party and the protest said they have wanted to exchange dialogue with each other for many years, but attempts at dialogue have never resulted in peaceful resolution.

The party, the largest event organized annually by Texas Hillel, had over 100 volunteers and many different booths for students to experience Israeli culture. Six main booths focused on educating event attendees on topics ranging from Israeli technological and medical innovation to the structure of the Knesset, the legislative branch of Israeli government. Other booths highlighted food, offered free smoothies and focused on the integration of different cultures in Israeli society.

Across the street, protestors argued that the Palestinian voice is silenced each year at the event.

Jauzey Imam, computer engineering and Plan II senior, said he wants to start a dialogue with students about human rights violations associated with the Palestinian conflict — information he said is being left out of the block party.

“We need some sort of representation of the Palestinian conflict,” Imam said. “We want people to start taking this seriously.”

Imam, who has protested the block party for three years in a row, said the group should do more to acknowledge Palestinian difficulties.

“Four and a half million Palestinians are living under occupation in Israel,” Imam said. “That’s a huge portion of the population, and they’re just not represented in things like the Israel Block Party.”

Rebecca Hanai, advertising sophomore and co-chair for the block party, said accusations of apartheid — a form of systemic, legal discrimination — are unwarranted.

“I lived in Israel for a year after high school, and I saw firsthand that Israel really believes in human rights and how they believe in equality for all its people,” Hanai said. “You can receive the same benefits and opportunities you get in the United States.”

Andrea Hiller, public relations sophomore and the other co-chair for the block party, said she doesn’t like focusing on the protests during a time of celebration and hopes to come to an agreement in the near future.

“If anything, we wish there was change only in that we wish we could have a dialogue,” Hiller said. “We would love to sit down and talk, and I’m sure we’d have more shared opinions than differences.”

Hiller said all students are invited to attend the party, and she hopes the groups can coexist peacefully in the future.

“If they would like to enjoy this party, they are more than welcome,” Hiller said. “The hardest part of the event is seeing students walk by because they are afraid to engage and afraid to learn more. That shouldn’t be the situation.”