Campus Divided: Divergent perspectives clash in Israel-Palestine protest

Pro-Palestine demonstrators gathered in front of Graham Center | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

Conor Moore and Samuel Larreal | PantherNOW Staff

Graham Center Lawns became embroiled in protest when a large crowd of students demanded a ceasefire on the Gaza Strip.

In response, a Jewish student-led counterprotest denounced recent Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians. The 100 person protest remained peaceful with moderate FIU Police presence.

Protestors on the Graham Center Lawns | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

The protest was originally organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that was recently “deactivated” by Florida statue university officials in a statewide ban. Only two official chapters have been banned — groups that aren’t officially registered with the university, like FIU’s branch, remain unaffected.

Reasons for the ban stem chiefly from allegations that the organization has ties to terrorist groups, like Hamas, the government of the Gaza Strip that was responsible for the recent attacks on Israel.

Demonstrators, who remained peaceful during the hour-long demonstration, were only separated by a few feet of concrete and FIU Police Department officers who declined to comment to PantherNOW.  

Pro-Palestinian protesters denounce Israeli airstrikes | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

Pro-Israel demonstrators frequently reacted to the SJP organized protestor’s chants. During the demonstration “From Hamas” was frequently added by pro-Israeli protestors to SJP chants calling for “Free Palestine.”

“As a Palestinian-American, all Palestinians are family. And so seeing genocide against my family, honestly, I feel is completely unreal. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t do my homework, I can’t do anything that I have to do as a student,” said Tara Mahmoud, biological science major and SJP member.

“When you go to journalists in Gaza, they are showing men and women and children who have been burned to death — that is what the world is seeing.”

Since Oct. 25, the Associated Press reported over 6,000 Palestinian deaths and around 1,400 Israeli deaths.

Pro-Palestine students on Oct. 25 | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

“FIU says nothing. Hospitals have been bombed, churches have been bombed, civilians have been bombed, churches have been bombed, it’s a very interesting dichotomy. What about civilians being murdered?” said Zuhra Akthar, biology and international relations major.

SJP also denounced FIU President Kenneth A. Jessell’s recent statement made right after the attacks by Hamas, claiming it to be a declaration of “unwavering support for the Israeli people, overlooking the continuous attacks on Palestinians.”

200 Israelis and other foreign nationals were taken prisoner by Hamas during the initial wave of attacks, leading to lingering anger and resentment among the Jewish community alongside the initial death toll.

Pro-Israeli counter-protesters in the GC Lawns | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

“When Jewish organizations did programs around this, there were vigils, we sent prayers, we sang songs. What you see from this organization is anger. You see people chanting from the River to the Sea, and you see their hearts are filled with hate,” said Jon Warech, executive director of Hillel at FIU, to PantherNOW.

“From the River to the Sea”, a motto that was repeated often during the protest, has faced heavy criticism and accusations of anti-Semitism by Jewish organizations who believe the phrase insinuates the complete removal of the state of Israel.

“Am Ysrael Chai”was chanted by Pro-Israel students | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

“We are standing for peace, for life and for our people,” said Talia Raab, a health services administration major with the Pro-Israel demonstration.

“1,400 people were massacred in one day, Hamas is a terrorist organization, and they are standing for terrorism,” Raab said while pointing to the pro-Palestine demonstrators.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” reads a pro-Palestine sign | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

“You wanna go to Gaza, I’ll pay for it,” FIU student Jordan Wood yelled while waving his credit card from the Pro-Israel side.

Pro-Israel students demonstrating against Pro-Palestine organizers. | Samuel Larreal, PantherNOW

For the most part, pro-Palestine demonstrators demanding did not interact with the counterprotest.

“There is no military solution to this. I think it has to be a political solution. Until we get into a ceasefire and pause this military reaction, then hopefully we can move into a political reaction,” said Dr. Mohamed Ghumrawi, professor and expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Part of the fundamental values of America and our constitutional rights to be out here to have freedom of speech is to be able to protest. The pro-Palestinian camp has a right to be here. The pro-Israel camp has a right to be here and both sides should be able to express their opinions.”

In previous comments to PantherNOW concerning this demonstration, FIUPD Chief Alexander Casas reiterated the right for students and FIU’s value for free speech.

Dr. Ghumrawi was asked about the potential of an open dialogue between both sides in hope of reconciliation. It would be difficult given the emotional charge that many groups have towards the conflict, but ultimately not impossible.

“I hope there’s a hope.”

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