Students at U of I see history



CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Crowded around a television, Jewish students at the University of Illinois whooped, hollered and applauded Monday as Arab leader Yasser Arafat extended a hand to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

They never imagined they would witness such a moment.

‘‘That was more significant than the signing,’‘ said graduate student Eddie Gornish, 29, of Philadelphia, who blew a New Year’s Eve party favor. ‘‘Those were two bitter enemies. They have been key players for so long.’‘

‘‘I never dreamed that I would live to this day,’‘ said Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, head of the Hillel Foundation. ‘‘As tentative and cautious as I am about the future, I am overcome with emotion at the prospects of this good and sturdy beginning.’‘

He and others watched the ceremony at Hillel, a campus center for Jewish students. About 30 people, mostly students, stared at the television for more than an hour as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an accord promising self-government for Palestinians.

Speeches by Rabin and Arafat produced polite applause. But the handshakes drew a loud, sustained response from the Hillel audience.

Gornish has visited Israel three times. His sister lives there.

‘‘Israel is an important part of my life. I contrast this moment with two or three years ago when the first Scud missiles fell on Tel Aviv,’‘ he said, referring to attacks by Iraq. ‘‘I’m a lot happier now than I was then.’‘

Mustafa Kharoub said classes prevented him from watching the ceremony. He’s a 27-year-old graduate student from the West Bank, which Israel seized in 1967.

‘‘I am really positive about it,’‘ he said of the pact. ‘‘But it has to have further positive steps, including the issue of Jerusalem.’‘

Rowena Arbiter, assistant director of the Hillel Foundation, said the agreement between Israel and the PLO eventually will allow Israel to focus on domestic issues instead of national security.

‘‘Our students will experience a different kind of Israel: more flavor, less fear, an experience of the real diversity of the region,’‘ she said.