UAA students wishing to learn more of the history and struggles of Palestine may now look beyond CNN to somewhere closer to home. This spring semester the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, a UAA-based club with the mission of educating UAA and Anchorage about the Palestine issue, was recognized as a club on campus. Though still in its infancy, club president Brian Yanity said he is pleased with the group’s progress.
“I think we’re doing very well in our first month so far,” Yanity said. “We’re planning on a community education seminar for the near future.”
The club has a modest membership with only five members attending the Feb. 4 meeting. However, for what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in determination.
Each member of the small group had a unique reason for joining the club since its beginning. Two of the club’s officers, Secretary Jean Kollantai and Representative Jessica Marci, have even had the experience of traveling abroad and interacting with Palestinians. They said their travels have had a profound influence on their decision to join PSC.
“There was no doubt that I would join the club after visiting,” Marci said. “I fell in love with the people; the most heartwarming, strong people I’ve ever met. I have true friends there.”
For Kollantai, contact with Palestinian culture came when her uncle was assassinated in Palestine in 1991. Kollantai was invited to a medical conference there and through visiting her widowed aunt, Kollantai was able to get a first-hand look into the culture of Palestine.
“I packed in a lot,” Kollantai said. “I was struck at how little I knew. After that, I became a member of Alaskans for Peace and Justice.”
Marci said it is impossible to get an idea of what actually goes on in the Middle-East. She said the mass media does a poor job of educating, and that there is an unfair stereotype of the culture in America.
“A lot of times the initial reaction when someone hears ‘Palestine’ they think terrorist,” Marci said.
Club member Ruth Sheridan said she agrees that stereotypes are a problem, and that one is even present here in Anchorage.
“We don’t have many [Palestinians] in the community,” Sheridan said. “So it’s nice to have something that is so straightforward about educating.”
Despite sympathy for the people involved in the Palestinian plight, the club maintains that it has no political allegiance. A club constitution was written that expresses political neutrality and stresses education.
“The PSC exists as a meeting place for all people and members who are interested in discussing and learning about the people and culture of Palestine,” states the PSC Constitution. Yanity said the PSC is not a political organization.
“We are about educating UAA about the Palestine issue,” Yanity said. “Right now we have no political position.”
The PSC was recently recognized as an official UAA club, and Yanity said community members are welcome to all PSC events. Yanity said the club will also be looking to make ties with other community organizations, such as Alaskans for Peace and Justice.
The PSC seems confident of their future, but all admit that a more solid membership is needed to ensure its success. Other goals are beginning to surface, such as allocating money for student travel.
“It would be great for us to be able to provide resources to students to visit Palestine,” Kollantai said.
Yanity listed community involvement at the top of his goals, hoping that in the near future the PSC will be organizing regular public events. The club members are united in their belief in each other and their ability to wrought change.
“We’re strong; we’re dedicated,” Marci said.