Wheels of Justice brings war protest to campus

By By Ana Breton and By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

A group of peace and justice activists rolled onto campus and parked their Wheels of Justice bus in the Union Free Speech Area on Thursday. The traveling organization aims to promote discussion about the situation in the Middle East and create student awareness of the war in Iraq.

The group’s mission is to protest without violence and educate the public about the conflicts between Palestine and Israel. Group members travel around the country in the blue, green and yellow bus with “War is not the Answer” written on the outside. The group spent a week in Utah, and their stop at the U was the last in the state before they headed to Riverton, Wyo.

During their visit, members of the organization gave a presentation detailing the conflict in the Middle East along with their experiences in the region. Ed Kinane, a group member and peace activist from Syracuse, N.Y., spoke about his experience in Iraq. He has been to the country on numerous occasions before and after the United States declared war. He spent most of 2003 taking medical supplies overseas and guiding U.S. residents through Iraq to witness the violence firsthand. He said that although shuttling American tourists to Iraq was illegal, he wanted to give them a personal view of the War on Terror. Being there was the only way to “puncture myths” about the war, he said.

“If I’m going to be working for peace, I should know something ’bout war,” said Kinane, who is also a member of the group Voices for Creative Nonviolence. “That’s why we stayed.”

Justin Kramer, a senior in Middle East studies and international relations at the U, said that if Americans had been more aware about the war’s toll, peace could be achieved much sooner. The military’s count of American service members killed in Iraq rose to more than 4,000 during the weekend, according to Associated Press reports.

“It’s not the government failing, it’s that people aren’t standing up to protest the war,” Kramer said. “Until they do that, it’s not going to happen.”

Back home, Kinane and group members try to educate the public about what the Middle East is like. Through videos and picture slideshows, they also try to define the groups commonly found in the region around the West Bank, Israel and Gaza Strip.

Hannah Mermelstein, a Wheels of Justice group member, explained that although they sometimes intertwine, the Jews, the Israeli and the Zionists are different. The Jewish identity is related to a faith or lineage.

The Israeli identity is an obtained citizenship, and Zionists come from a political movement that aims to preserve the Jewish identity, Mermelstein said. “When I researched these things fully, I suddenly had to unlearn all the values that I learned in life,” said Mermelstein, who is a Jewish American from Philadelphia. “Turned out, things were not the way I viewed them at all.”

She told a story about how when she was younger, she used to donate quarters through a synagogue program that pledged to plant more trees in what she was told was the war-torn, run-down city of Saffourien. The city, which is now named Tzippaei, is a forest, which isn’t a good thing, Mermelstein said.

“They covered up the Palestinian history,” she said. “They said the only building standing was an ancient Roman ruin. They are not acknowledging that anything ever happened there.”

Neither Kinane nor Mermelstein said they would be going back to Iraq any time soon. Instead, they plan to continue touring with the Wheels of Justice. Kinane has been touring with the bus on and off for the last eight years.

“Now, it would have been more dangerous to return to Iraq,” Kinane said. “There is too much hostility.”

[email protected]