Overcast skies and a chance of rain — a glitchy megaphone and a bluetooth speaker —50 students gathered in Gleeson Plaza on Feb. 1, calling for peace in the Middle East.
Last week, USFCA Students for Palestine held their first rally of the spring semester. Students showed up with signs and keffiyehs — traditional Palestinian scarves — to support the besieged people of Gaza.
Four months into the Israeli aggressions in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, demonstrations of solidarity in the form of rallies, protests and marches are still going strong.
The group led chants such as, “No more bombing, no more slaughter, Gaza has no food or water,” in reference to what Human Rights Watch calls the weaponization of starvation on the Gazan population by Israel. Palestinians are also facing levels of mass dehydration caused by the collapse of societal structures.
Protestors demanded for USF to formally call for a cease-fire. The crowd chanted, “USF, pick a side, cease-fire, not genocide,” and “No more hiding, no more fear, genocide is crystal clear,” calling on the University to label Israel’s actions as genocide. Both the federal court and the International Court of Justice agreed that it is “plausible” that Israel is committing a genocide.
The Foghorn has previously reported on the controversy surrounding USF President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., signing a statement from Universities United Against Terrorism, which provoked a community response garnering hundreds of signatures.
Senior fine arts major Madison Avery said, “I attended the protest to show solidarity with my Palestinian classmates and call out USF for standing with the oppressor. USF is complicit because they joined [the Universities Against Terrorism] coalition that openly supports the genocidal oppressor, have not made any statements denouncing the genocide of Palestinians, and do not support their Palestinian students in their fight for social justice.”
In a Nov. 10 email titled “Care for our Community,” Fitzgerald responded to these accusations. “I want to address a statement from Universities United Against Terrorism that I, along with a coalition of about 100 other university presidents, signed denouncing Hamas and terrorism. I chose to sign in order to add my voice in solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians…I pray for the Palestinian people and for an immediate end to the violence that is causing such horrible and inhumane suffering.”
One of the rally’s first student speakers highlighted the toll of Israel’s actions on women in Gaza. Citing the Institute for Middle East Understanding, they highlighted the devastation that Israel’s actions in Gaza have had on women specifically. As AP News reports, women and children in Gaza have been the main victims of Israel’s military campaign, with two Palestinian mothers being killed every hour.
Palestinian men, too, were given attention by rally organizers. This was an effort to push back against the disproportionate focus on women and children when speaking about those impacted by the war in Gaza. Palestinian men, the speakers argued, are just as victimized by the violence, and often play crucial roles in mitigating the humanitarian catastrophe such as working as first responders or digging people out of rubble.
Another student organizer pledged to continue the demonstrations in the weeks to come, saying, “We rest only when our martyrs have the chance to rest in peace, and our people have the chance to live in peace.”
Another point of outrage at the rally was an incident that occurred on Jan. 30 not in Gaza, but in the West Bank. Al Jazeera reports that Israeli troops “disguised as medical staff and civilians” invaded a hospital in the city of Jenin and shot three Palestinian men. Though the men were members of State Department-designated terrorist groups — one a member of Hamas and two from the Islamic Jihad — International Humanitarian Law is clear that armed forces disguising themselves as civilians, and particularly as medical staff, is illegal under the rules of war.
It is also a war crime to attack a hospital — even when targeting known militants. There are certain times when a hospital can lose its protected status under international law, but International Humanitarian Law is clear that the circumstances of the Jenin hospital raid are illegal war crimes.
Antoinette De Lira Lopez, a sophomore history major said, “I decided to join the protest for Palestine because truly, there is no other option. Either you are on the side of history that supports genocide, or you’re not. USF community members need to hear and see that Palestine has not been forgotten, simply because the posts are no longer trending. USF can and should do better.”
For more information about upcoming demonstrations, follow the @usfcastudents4palestine Instagram account. The Foghorn will continue to report on breaking developments in campus response to the Israel-Hamas War.
Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, News Editor: Niki Sedaghat