A colorful bunch of students holding signs in support of Palestine.
Illustration by Latifah Khuffash.

COMMENTARY: A Re-Cap of Palestinian Campus Protests and Why Speaking Out Matters

Words by Abigail Vela

Additional Edits and Contributions by members of the Trucha Team

As we continue to watch the horrors of the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people through our phone screens, students from campuses throughout the United States have protested in solidarity since last year. However, the most recent wave of demonstrations and rallies had an increasing police presence on campus grounds, as seen with The University of Texas at Austin. 

 

The University of Texas at Austin held peaceful demonstrations that quickly escalated into violent arrests. According to KUT News, 57 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were arrested on Wednesday, April 24, at the UT Austin campus. All charges were dropped. During a second demonstration on Monday, April 29, 79 people were arrested—34 of the arrested were students.

 

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley held a rally, during which law enforcement stood along every corner of the campus as if waiting to intervene at any moment.

 

These arrests and police presence have shown the world that instead of protecting university students throughout our country and the state of Texas, people in political power are more inclined to protect their financial interests.

A Call to Divest, Demanding a Ceasefire

The peaceful event at UT was organized by the student organization Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), but it quickly escalated after state troopers were called in at the request of University President Jay Hartzell to Gov. Greg Abbott. 

 

Hartzell sent a letter to UT Austin students before the protests, mentioning that students who participated would face disciplinary action. According to ACLU Texas, the right to protest is a constitutionally protected right. However, universities may restrict protest activities to “maintain peace and public order.” UT Austin faculty responded with a letter condemning the actions of President Jay Hartzell and administrative leaders.

 

Students organized these protests because of the “continuation of [their] call against [their] institution’s complicity in the ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza,” as stated by UT Austin student Ammer Qaddumi in a KUT News report. Several interviews throughout the report expressed surprise over the amount of law enforcement present, given that the demonstrations and protests were peaceful. 

 

Countless students throughout the country have demanded a ceasefire and for their universities to divest from companies that are doing business, using tuition towards military weapons manufacturing, or helping support Israel’s ongoing crimes against humanity.

 

“We found out that some of the administrators are actually investors in certain companies that are weapon manufacturers. And recently, particularly, I think a few months ago, the university opened up a program that was aimed at weapon manufacturing companies […] This is our tuition that’s going into these projects,” an organizer for the student-led organization Rio Grande Valley Youth Democratic Socialist of America (RGV YSDA) shared.

Screenshot of a guided graphic that shows how The University of Texas System is funding the Genocide.
Helpful screenshot of a graphic created by @curesatut and posted by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee on May 1, 2024.

Students Speak Out at Palestine Rally at UTRGV

After a week of finals and graduation ceremonies, RGV YDSA led a rally on the UTRGV campus on May 16 at the UTRGV Edinburg Quad. The last rally held on the UTRGV campus was on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. Over 50 students and community members showed up to chant and march around the campus grounds.

 

Members of our team showed up in solidarity and gathered in a circle with the rest of the organizers and attendees. Local mutual aid organization Food Not Bombs was also in attendance. 

 

Despite the humidity and extreme heat, we all sat and listened to the organizers of RGV YDSA telling us stories of their father, who returned from Gaza after helping people in hospitals and witnessing the destruction that’s occurred since. 

 

“I’m proud to be able to share [these] stories […] to know that their suffering is not going to go unknown,” said the organizer of RGV YSDA. Their voice began to rise as they recounted their father’s experience. Listening to their impassioned voice gave everyone present a moment to reflect and acknowledge the gravity of the situation in Palestine.

RGV Organizers Respond

Local organizations and groups who have been actively speaking out against the atrocities happening in Gaza share their thoughts on the genocide and the arrests that occurred last month. The following is what they had to say:

 

Jack Nieto from RedStarTX

The police response towards student organizers is the exact reason why folks in the RGV should care about Palestine and want to support the student movement for Palestinian liberation. The connection between the militarization of our communities here in the RGV, the brutal, violent, and repressive police response against protesters, and the occupation of Palestine are undeniably connected. If we are to be free from the occupation in the Valley, then we all must participate in the intersectional struggle for the liberation of Palestine.

Arin Young  and Laura Barrera Lamb from Food Not Bombs

One of the purposes of attending college is to explore ideas, find issues that resonate with you, and discover the places where you see yourself being supportive. These protests embody the spirit of solidarity that students cultivate in order to support their community and the larger world. By practicing the First Amendment right, they are funneling this energy to useful and constructive projects, like the encampments. Here in the Valley, you can join an organization like Food Not Bombs to serve food for peace or join a protest. We serve food on the last Sunday of every month at Archer Park from 5 to 7 p.m.

ENTRE

ENTRE calls for the immediate dissolution of the apartheid state of Israel and stands firmly in solidarity with all the students around the world who are protesting the genocide of the Palestinian people. We are living in a time where documentation of events from perspectives outside mainstream media is crucial to our understanding of the horrific crimes against humanity unfolding in our world. Our right to document and speak truthfully about these events is also at risk, which makes the people sharing the truth of these events brave stewards of history. When institutions across the country that claim to champion new ideas and societal progress reveal themselves as advocates of oppression, the people have no one to turn to but each other. As an organization committed to challenging the status quo and to the creation of new worlds, we condemn the violence enacted upon students around the country and join them in extending our support to the people of Palestine.

 

ENTRE regularly hosts programming advocating for the liberation of Palestine and is currently organizing a benefit screening to raise funds for jail support efforts. For more information about upcoming programming and ways to support, follow us @entre.tx on Instagram.

Watch the screening of A Luta Continua at Entre Film Center on Friday, May 31. Flyer courtesy of Entre.

¡Viva Viva Palestina!

So why should the genocide happening in Palestine matter to us here in the Rio Grande Valley? I think that the question really is, how could it not matter? These rallies, protests, and demands for a ceasefire are efforts being made to fight for our neighbors in Palestine. 

 

The demand for ceasefire is the bare minimum our government can do.  By speaking out against the over-militarization and blatant colonization present here at home and in Palestine, we are demanding justice for a whole group of people made up of proud bloodlines and close-knit families. They are the ones who are being bombed and brutally killed, as I type.

 

Their stories matter as much as the stories we publish on our platform every single week. Their stories are akin to our own. I ask you to take a moment right now to ask yourself how you can help: March in a protest, write, organize a fundraiser, stop supporting companies directly tied to the Palestinian genocide, and volunteer for local organizations like RGV YSDA, RedStarTX, Food Not Bombs and Entre, which are actively finding ways to help from here.

 

As retold by a Palestinian artist I know and by the voices speaking throughout campuses, the internet, and the world: “It’s Ceasefire, then Lift the Siege, then End the Occupation, then Free Palestine.” 

 

It will always be easier to feel hopeless, but we should instead share the heaviness and lift it together. Let us continue marching and speaking out together in community. 

 

The end of the occupation is vital for Palestine, period. Palestinians deserve the right to live peacefully in a land that is rightfully theirs.

 

From one borderland to another, 

From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free. 

Illustration by Latifah Khuffash.
Illustration by Latifah Khuffash.

Additional Resources to Help Palestine

  • Support Operation Olive Branch, a grassroots volunteer-led movement to support and amplify aid requests of Palestinian families and dig deeper through their collective efforts, information and resources.
  • Access the Master Doc to stay up to date on the many ways you may help, support and connect to resources and information about countires facing oppression and genocide. 
  • Visit Decolonize Palestine, a website of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about Palestine.
  • Donate eSims for Gaza so civilians and journalists can have internet to document and share footage.
  • Boycott companies profiting from the Palestinian Genocide.
  • Stay informed and check out this reading list for Palestine.
  • Follow nationwide-charity Care For Gaza on X.
  • Donate to the Nationwide Campus Bail Fund.

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