“Dammi Falastini,” a song about Palestinan pride by Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, echoed around Flint Loop as students gathered last Friday for UB Amnesty International’s “Free Palestine” walk from North to South Campus.
The annual walk, led by the Muslim Student Association in previous years, was held on Friday to protest human rights violations occurring in Palestine and American foreign military aid policy. Over the years, students have walked for various causes such as Yemen, Kashmir and Myanmar.
Students from universities across the country, including Vanderbilt University, University of Michigan and St. John’s University, also walked in support.
Zanaya Hussian, the President of Amnesty International, expected more pushback and no support from the administration but was “pleasantly surprised” at the support and turnout for the cause.
“I decided to come today because I’m passionate about Palestinan culture, and identity not being erased from history,” Nadya Elhalawany, a junior biological sciences major, said. “Slowly and slowly, as time goes on, Palestine is kind of evaporating because [the] media isn’t covering issues and the occupation. I think these events are helpful and important to make sure that people still know Palestinians exist and deserve a right to live.”
Elhalawany shared that she thinks the university can show its support by promoting similar events and minority clubs, citing a lack of resources to foster student engagement at club events.
At 4:30 p.m., students met at Flint Loop. Signs were provided for protesters who didn’t bring their own.
Students started their walk to South Campus about an hour later with University Police following alongside participants with a police car and an officer on a bike.
Students shouted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Stop the aid, stop the millions, all it does is kill civilians” as they marched through the streets of Buffalo.
Many cars honked in support of the movement, with one driver pumping their fist and yelling “Yeah!”
After arriving on South Campus, students headed to Room 114 of Wende Hall for Mahgrib, a prayer Muslims observe at sunset.
UB Amnesty International Secretary Zach Day and Treasurer Kevin Smith then held a presentation on the historical context of Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians faced permanent displacement following the establishment of the state of Israel.
“Being Jewish, I felt it was an outlet to try and understand the world and my relationship to the world,” Day said. “It is not a both sides issue.”
Vice President of UB Amnesty Jasmin Gill cited an Amnesty International report on Israeli legislation and policies such as segregation, “administrative detention” and forcible displacement, amounting to apartheid against Palestinians under international law.
The report likens ongoing violations to the racial segregation in South Africa due to a “special interest” in Israeli governance purposefully structured to oppress and dominate Palestinians.
A statement released by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Oct. 20 corroborated that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel, was unlawful after conducting an investigation into Israel’s alleged violations of international law on May 27, 2021.
English professor James Holstun expressed the importance of accurately characterizing Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians as apartheid given the self-censorship that the mainstream engages in surrounding the topic.
“Imagine trying to fight slavery, or apartheid or capitalism without being able to say slavery or apartheid or capitalism,” Holstun said in a speech at the event.
Holstun spoke with The Spectrum after the demonstration. He recalled feeling urged to delve into Palestinian liberation after six Lackawanna Yemenis were found guilty for relations with Al-Qaeda in 2002. Holstun witnessed the “horrible attack” on his friends in the Yemeni community after the U.S. government’s heavy crackdown on Lackawanna, and it compelled him to learn more.
Since then, Holstun has written pieces for the Electronic Intifada, a publication that reports on Palestinian culture and current events, and is working on a separate collection of essays on Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh and Israeli novelist S. Yizhar.
To bring attention to the dispossession of Palestinians at the legislative level, Hussian introduced the club’s Write for Rights letter campaign where they will ask Senator Chuck Schumer to make U.S. defense funding for Israel conditional on whether Israel abides by international human rights law.
Hussian was inspired by the success of this walk and is hoping to organize another one.
“It’s renewed my passion for the cause and I definitely feel empowered,” Hussian said.
Holstun encourages students who want to continue advocating for Palestine to do their research.
“Read. Read. Read. Read Israeli newspapers. Read Palestinian newspapers,” Holstun said. “Read Electronic Intifada. Read the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Get a sense of the controversies. Get a sense of the debates. They’re exciting, they’re intellectually stimulating, they’re ongoing.”
Tenzin Wodhean is the fact checker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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