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Community members rally in support of Palestinian liberation

Noor Haghighi
Protestors chant in support of Palestine on April 25 on the UA Mall. Some of the rally’s organizers included Students for Justice in Palestine and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Arizona hosted a protest on the UA Mall to show solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian community on Thursday, April 25.  

During the protest, students and staff advocated for an urgent ceasefire in Palestine, cessation of all U.S. assistance to Israel, UA divestment from the weapons manufacturer RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon Technologies Corporation) and an end of any partnerships between the UA and Israel. 

Alaa Zahlan, a former UA student and Palestinian American who attended the rally, said that she protested to demand action from administrators and to represent the enduring nature of the conflict and its significance to her own family’s history.

“This has been an ongoing issue since 1948, even before, when Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes, including my family. My grandparents were forcibly removed from their homes, [people were] being displaced into neighboring countries or different parts of Palestine,” Zahlan said.

There have been many similar protest movements at universities across the nation, with numerous schools joining in encampment protests. However, the UA refrained from setting up encampments during this protest. 

Encampment protests for Palestine are a form of activism where tents or camps are assembled to draw attention to the movement for Palestinian rights. These protests have occurred as a response to Israeli military actions, settlement expansion and university investments. 

In reaction to these protests and encampments, university administrators across the U.S. have called the police on students, suspended students and released statements over safety and security concerns and anti-Semitism. 

The UA Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Steve Patterson released a statement about free speech and safety on April 19. 

I am writing to make you aware that during the week of April 22, events are scheduled to be held by student groups at the University of Arizona as part of what they are calling ‘Israeli Apartheid Week.’ Many students, parents and members of the campus community have expressed concerns about safety particularly because of the passionate and divergent beliefs held by many on this topic,” Patterson said in the statement. 

Zahlan said that she was concerned about student and staff protesting rights and the presence of police at encampments and protests at the UA and other campuses across the country. 

“It’s a violation of free speech, and why does it not apply? Why does the First Amendment not apply? Why is Israel the exception to the First Amendment, to free speech,” Zahlan said.

A speaker addresses the crowd at a protest supporting Palestine on the mall on April 25. She wears a Palestinian keffiyeh which may represent identity and resistance to Israeli occupation. (Noor Haghighi)

UA SJP organizers said that although it is important to discuss what has happened at universities across the U.S., they did not want to detract from the primary focus of the rally, which was Palestinian freedom. 

This sentiment was shown during the protest as a banner was placed above the Student Union Memorial Center that said, “All the universities in Gaza have been bombed. Free Palestine.”

The banner was supplemented with fliers from UA SJP organizers showing how many students, teachers and professors have been killed, how many libraries have been destroyed and how many schools remain in Palestine. 

“We’re here to bring awareness to what’s happening currently in Palestine, which Palestine is being bombed actively by Israeli forces. The Israeli Defense Forces are actively killing thousands and thousands of children, men and women,” Zahlan said. 

The protestors were met with around 15 pro-Israel and anti-Hamas counter-protestors holding Israeli flags, however both sides remained peaceful throughout. 

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