On Oct. 7, Israel declared war on Hamas, a militant group in Gaza, in response to a surprise attack by the group. Following the attack and the worsening humanitarian crisis in the region, community members at USF and in San Francisco have responded to the conflict with a number of protest actions, fundraising events, educational opportunities, and statements of support.
Hamas, referred to as “an Islamist militant movement and one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties” by the Council on Foreign Relations, “launched a massive surprise attack on southern Israel, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers and taking dozens more as hostages” on Oct. 7. In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and has continually fired off airstrikes since. As of Oct. 22, at least 5,087 Palestinians have been killed and more than 15,273 have been injured in Gaza; at least 1,405 Israelis have been killed and at least 5,431 injured according to Al Jazeera, a Qatari-state owned publication.
More than 50 students marched across campus on Oct. 12 to “protest against the oppression of the Palestinian people,” according to the protest’s flier. Before the protest, at Gleeson Plaza, a group of student organizers contextualized the Israel-Hamas War, speaking about the history of Israeli control over the region. Protesters chanted “Free, free, free Palestine,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Another protest, called “All Out for Gaza” on its flier, occurred on Oct. 18 at the School of Law.
On Oct. 19, the USF Muslim Student Association (MSA), Arab Student Union, Khandann, and Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Club hosted a “Space for Grieving” in the University Center for students “to gather and grieve. Let us never turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, and let the greater community understand that suffering in the Global South should never be accepted as normal,” they said in a joint Instagram post.
At the same time, other members from these four student organizations held a fundraising event for Palestine, Afghanistan, and Armenia in front of Lo Schiavo, where all proceeds will go to non-profit organizations supporting citizens of these countries.
Maryam Siddiqui, vice president of MSA, encouraged campus community members to donate last Thursday. “This is one of the biggest human rights crises happening right now, and people are really uninformed about what’s happening,” Siddiqui, who is also Khandann’s events coordinator, said.
“We’re like, ‘What can we do for the people there?’ It’s all about spreading awareness and fundraising,” Siddiqui, who is a junior nursing major, said. Students can donate through the clubs’ collective Venmo, @swanarelief.
All Black student organizations on campus put out a joint statement on Oct. 21 on Instagram in support of their “Palestinian peers, community members, and all those who stand by them. We give you our solidarity and our readiness to support and listen any way we can.”
Faculty and administration have also responded to the conflict. On Oct. 18, President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. released an email statement acknowledging the developments in Israel and Gaza and offered condolences to impacted USF community members. “In classroom discussions, campus activities, and academic debates, you have the right to express your opinion — but not to cause any member of this community to fear for their safety.”
Odelia Jesselson, a Jewish sophomore environmental studies major, said, “I’ve had a lot of friends that are really scared in New York right now… Generalizing hurts so much… Humanizing the whole situation is super important.”
Professor Oren Kroll-Zeldin, assistant professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, teaches a course called Social Justice and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
“There are tensions between Jewish students and Palestinian or Arab students in the classroom,” Kroll-Zeldin said. “Although these conversations and debates are deeply unsettling, deeply uncomfortable, and there are many, many people on campus — Israeli, Palestinian, and others — who are deeply personally impacted by what is going on, that there’s still room for learning through this type of academic debate.”
Last summer, Kroll-Zeldin took a group of students to Israel and Palestine as part of the Beyond Bridges: Israel-Palestine (BBIP) program, a three-week program in which students learn about the conflict firsthand from directly impacted individuals.
Lou Corrigan, a junior environmental studies major who participated in BBIP this summer, said, “It’s important to realize that even if it hasn’t impacted you directly in your life in a way that you’ve realized, that this is a very emotional time for people, that people feel physically unsafe, people feel at risk of losing family members, and people are carrying this grief with them.”
Professor Saera Khan, Professor Nour Al-Muhtasib, Professor Aysha Hidayatullah, Professor Aline Hitti, Professor Nora Fisher Onar, and Professor Taymiya Zaman released a joint message shared on MENA’s Instagram account on Oct. 19 calling for “more educated people who can speak to the injustices that are happening… Speaking out and peacefully protesting is important in times like this.”
San Francisco Actions
On Oct. 13, a “Bring Them Home” rally organized by UnXeptable took place in front of City Hall to protest the immediate release of Israeli hostages. According to their website, “UnXeptable is a grassroots movement launched by Israeli expats in support of a democratic Israel.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported that approximately 200 people attended, including elected officials, community leaders, and family members of hostage victims.
The next day, thousands attended the “All Out for Gaza” rally downtown on Oct. 14, organized by “several Bay Area organizations supporting Palestinian rights,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
San Francisco Unified School District high school students staged a walkout, organized by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center to demand an immediate ceasefire of Israel’s airstrikes in the Israel-Hamas War.
The Oct. 18 walkout was followed by a press conference in front of City Hall. San Francisco District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen said at the conference, “As the daughter of an Israeli, as a Jewish woman, as a human being, I say stop the madness, stop the killing.”
Protestors gathered in support of Palestine outside the San Francisco Federal Building on Oct. 19.
SF Hillel, which serves Jewish students at USF, among others in the city by making “Judaism relevant and accessible for and by students,” held a candlelight vigil on Oct. 23 at their Hillel house, located next to San Francisco State’s campus, according to their Instagram account.
“Unfortunately, our Jewish community on campus is held accountable for the actions of the state of Israel simply because we’re Jewish,” said Roger Feigelson, executive director of SF Hillel.
“My hope is that our students and the broader community members who attend will appreciate having this moment to honor the fallen,” Feigelson said of SF Hillel’s vigil.
A “Protest for Palestine” will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in front of the School of Law, after the time of print, where students are advised to walk out of their classes in support of a list of demands for USF, which can be found hyperlinked to this article on the Foghorn’s website. As stated on their flier, organizers are asking faculty to stand in solidarity by canceling class and not participating in any university activities. The Foghorn will continue to report on this breaking news.
A “Teach-In of Current Events in the Middle East” will be offered on Thursday, Oct. 26 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in Lone Mountain Main Room 100. Kroll-Zeldin, who is also the assistant director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, said the event came from students questioning him about the conflict after the Hamas attack.
“I contacted my colleagues in the Middle East Studies program, said, ‘There’s demand for learning, why don’t we organize a teach-in,’” Kroll-Zeldin said.
The teach-in is co-sponsored by the departments of international studies, the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, Middle East studies, and politics. Speakers include professors with expertise on the conflict across different departments.
Megan Robertson contributed to reporting on this story.