Two billboards with different takes on a decades old issue that has separated people all over the world have been posted on opposite ends of the Harrison Train Station.
Harrison's station is one of 75 across the region where StandWithUs, a California based non-profit, added a pro-Israel billboard along the platform this week. The billboards are in response to billboards placed in July funded by Henry Clifford, a retired investment banker who is chair of a 10-member group called the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine. Clifford’s posters show maps depicting the loss of Palestinian controlled land between 1946 and 2010, and state that 4.7 million Palestinians have since been classified as refugees by the United Nations.
The StandWithUS billboard in Harrison depicts two children arm-in-arm with the words "Israel Needs a Partner for Peace" and "Urge Palestinians to Accept Israel as Their Jewish Neighbor" printed on the image.
Similar billboards from each group (several of them are pictured) have appeared in train stations throughout the region, stirring a debate as to whether or not inflammatory advertising should be allowed in public areas like train stations.
After Clifford's billboards were posted in July, Assemblymen Robert Castelli, whose district encompasses Harrison, sent an open letter to Metro North President Howard Permut urging him to remove the billboards.
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"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment right of free speech in the Constitution, and certainly a proponent that the people of Israel and Palestine should live in harmony together," the letter reads. "However, the subliminal message that this particular billboard carries is an anti-Israeli message that I believe has just the opposite effect of creating peace and harmony between the Israeli and Palestinian people."
The billboards from StandWithUS appeared in Harrison and several surrounding stations this week. Susan Weicher, who was at the Harrison station returning home to Stanford, CT. Thursday, said she is happy that two sides of the issue are now represented.
"If they have opposite views, I probably think it's okay," she said, adding that stirring the debate could actually force more people to become knowledgeable of the issue.
"Maybe they will take out their smart phone and become involved," she added.
Madeline Squillante, who lives in Harrison, said having two sides of the story allows people to make a decision for themselves.
"Even if they don't read newspapers they might as well see something they don't know," she said.
StandWithUs told Patch earlier this week the new pro-Israel advertisements are designed to counter what they call misinformation.
"We cannot allow the public to be misled by the factual distortions in yet another anti-Israel campaign,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “We are committed to countering anti-Israel campaigns whenever they appear. Anti-Israel activists continuously try to undermine American support for Israel with campaigns that misrepresent Israel and its history.”
Clifford said that StandWithUs has every right to wage their own counter-campaign, but that his posters are factually correct.
“Our posters show historical and geographical facts with no editorial comments,” said Clifford. “We don’t tell people what to think we give them the hard facts and let them draw their own conclusions. With the hundreds of thousands of words that are exchanged on this subject we’re left with one absolute clear and certainty, that is that Palestinians have lost most of their homeland. No words or billboards can erase that fact.”
The StandWithUs billboard campaign aims to “highlight Israel's history, its gifts to the world, and underscore the Palestinians' refusal to say yes to peace,” a press release from the organization said.
"The founding of modern Israel was an act of historical justice. The injustice is that Palestinian Arabs have continued to reject all territorial compromises for peace,” said Avi Posnick, regional coordinator of the New York chapter of StandWithUs. "Our billboard campaigns highlight how just Israel’s founding was, how much it has sought peace with its neighbors, and how it is fulfilling its goal of helping people around the world."
Clifford argues that Palestine doesn’t refuse to say yes to peace, but refuses to agree with agreements where Palestine is required to give up land to Israel. He says StandWithUs’ six different poster images showing things like how Israel saves water and helps American job production is not a justification for the conflict and the taking of Palestinian land.
“If Israel wants a partner for peace with Palestine it has to discontinue its illegal occupation of the West Bank of Palestine,” said Clifford. “Then they would have a partner in peace.”
However, some think that Clifford should keep his ideals to himself and that train stations are no place for political conversation. Someone scribbled over Palestine as it appeared in 1946 on one of Clifford’s posters at the White Plains station, writing “Keep Your Opinions to Yourself.”
Dian Wilkinson, who was at the White Plains train station this week, said political signs at the train station don’t bother her.
“It’s a free country,” said the West Harrison resident.
Note: This is an update to a story earlier this week.