By Nigel Whan, AsAmNews Intern
Thousands of students at colleges and universities across the country walked out of their classes on Wednesday to demand their schools divest from arms manufacturers and call for an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza.
A wide coalition of groups came together to organize the national walkout, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, youth anti-war movement Dissenters, the international Filipino youth organization Anakbayan, the Resist US-Led War Movement, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the National Muslim Student Association, and the Arab Resource & Organizing Center.
To get a look at the walkout on the ground, AsAmNews attended the walkout held at the University of San Francisco. Gathering after leaving their classes, student organizers gave speeches and led the crowd in chants of “Free, free, free Palestine,” and “From Palestine to Mexico, these border walls have got to go.”
Isolated from the outside world since 2007 by a strict blockade imposed in cooperation with Egypt, Gaza depends on limited imports of food, electricity and fuel to run hospitals and desalination plants, vital for drinking water.
Since the Hamas attacks on October 7th, which killed 1400 Israelis and resulted in about 200 hostages being taken to Gaza, Israel has imposed a “total blockade” on Gaza, dropping bombs and launching on-the-ground raids as they consider full-scale invasion, as reported by Al Jazeera
As the New York Times reports, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza announced that the blockade and attacks killed 6,747 identified victims. It responded to doubts from Biden and Israeli officials about their statistics with a detailed list of the names, ages, genders and ID numbers of those killed. 281 more bodies are still unidentified, bringing the death toll to 7,028. As of today, all internet and telecommunications links to Gaza have been cut according to Politico.
At the University of San Francisco, the students’ march took them around the Main and Lone Mountain campuses of USF and through university buildings.
Though many of the organizers are on the boards of cultural student clubs, they’ve chosen to organize outside any formal student organization until they can form a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Beginning the march, one Palestinian American student organizer shared a family story of Israeli bombs, which left her mother as a three month old buried under the rubble of her family’s apartment block in 1978, the only survivor out of her parents, brother and sister.
After the protest, we met with that student for an interview. A co-organizer for the campus walkout, she asked to remain anonymous. We’ve also blurred the photos of the protestors to protect them from being doxed.
“My mom spent three days under the rubble, no food, no water, no light, no nothing. She’s just a little baby, a little baby crying and crying. My mom always used to say ‘I’m such a crybaby’ but thankfully being a crybaby saved her life, because without her making that noise, she would have never been heard and never been saved. That is another example of how Israel has wiped out entire families, if it wasn’t for my mom surviving, I wouldn’t be here.”
Asked about their specific demands for USF, she explained that “We demand that USF divest from weapons manufacturers that arms Israel’s genocide of Gaza. We demand an immediate end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and US funding for Israel.”
“We demand that USF publicly denounce Israel’s genocide of Palestinian people, through an email to an entire campus and actively throughout the campus—an email can do something, but what are you doing for our people? And our last one is that we demand that USF diversifies its staff, especially when speaking about the history of Palestinians.”
On Thursday, the day after the walkout, the university organized a teach-in featuring professors from the theology, politics and psychology departments. Another co-organizer of the walkout and protest, a Pakistani American student, told us that “We were overall very disappointed in the teach-in.”
For one, the students felt the teach-in spent too much time comparing Palestine with other countries, perhaps more familiar to the professors, such as Northern Ireland.
“The connection felt more like a derailment than actually enlightening people on the situation in Palestine.”
Further, the organizers felt the teach-in was very “cerebral and academic,” an issue when the school hasn’t made any space for affected students to process their emotions.
She says that’s why a Palestinian American student reacted emotionally at the end of the teach-in, being comforted by a South Asian professor who wasn’t part of the panel. “As a teacher, this was the most humanizing moment of the teach-in for me, because this Asian American professor actually empathized with the student who had the emotional outburst and stood up for this student, whereas the professors leading the teach in couldn’t even offer any sort of emotional connection.”
As a Pakistani and South Asian American, she told AsAmNews her identity is closely linked to solidarity with Palestinians. She sees her grandparents’ stories of displacement from modern-day India to modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh due to British partition similar to the experiences of Palestinians, their homeland likewise having been colonized by the British and divided when they left.
She says that “I think that connection of being colonized or formerly colonized peoples means I can really relate to my co-organizer who clearly said that resistance is in our bones, it’s in our very bones to resist colonialism and oppression.”
She pointed out that even when her mother, uncle and maternal grandparents were living in what is now Bangladesh while the Pakistani military waged a genocidal war against the independence movement, they resisted. “They chose to leave rather than to continue to exist as oppressors in this country being genocided, they supported Bangladeshi liberation even though they were Pakistani. So, in the same way I think it’s part of my identity to resist oppression.”
She told us that ultimately, “I think that all formerly colonized people should be fighting for the Palestinian cause.”
The Palestinian American student interviewee told us that as a Palestinian American, she’s privileged to be able to speak out for Palestine as an American citizen, even as the United States funds Israel’s military.
“So, I have a privilege being an American citizen, to speak out and say more and do more, because I can’t let people die, I can’t let the same suffering and pain be embedded into [the] bones of more Palestinians, of Black people, of more Filipinos, of more Latinx communities, it has to stop somewhere.
She hopes that Asian Americans can stand in solidarity with Palestinian struggles, saying “We don’t have to have the same names, we don’t have to speak the same language, we just need to be able to share and show our hearts and say ‘We are struggling.’ And the struggle is real for all, and if we combine our struggle into one struggle, we can all fight for liberation.”
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