University of Connecticut student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted a walkout on Fairfield Way outside of the Student Union on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
The rally was in response to the ongoing conflict between the Israeli government and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), the governing body of the Gaza Strip. Israel and Palestine have been fighting over territory since the 1940s. This specific conflict, the Israel-Hamas War, began on Oct. 7 when Hamas fired rockets at Israeli towns, killing more than one thousand, and kidnapped hundreds of Israelis.
In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and began bombing what they claim are Hamas targets in Gaza. Israel has cut off the supply of basic necessities such as food, water, fuel and electricity from Gaza, where more than 2.2 million Palestinians reside. On Tuesday, Oct. 31, Israel bombed Gaza’s largest refugee camp, Jabalia, killing hundreds. The Israel defense Forces (IDF) claimed that they killed a top Hamas commander at Jabalia. Hamas denies that one of their leaders was in the camp, saying the IDF only killed civilians. Neither statement has been confirmed by outside sources.
At the walkout, UConn SJP denounced UConn’s lack of acknowledgement of the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. They also denounced the Biden administration for supporting Israel.
The walkout had about 200 student participants. Students wore black and white keffiyeh, a traditional scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. During their march across the Student Union lawn, they waved posters reading messages saying “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire NOW.” They shouted chants including “stop the murder and occupation,” “not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crime,” and mentioned UConn President Radenka Maric in another chant, saying “hey, Radenka, you will see, Palestine will be free.”
After the march, they stopped and rallied at the South entrance of the Student Union, across from Gampel Pavilion. There were five speakers at the rally. They all emphasized the importance of student voices.
“When you speak up for Palestine, you speak up for humanity,” the first speaker said into a megaphone. The speaker seemed to become overcome with emotion as an onlooker began the chant: “Freedom of movement now!”
“We have the privilege to disconnect, but is it our job to amplify the voices of the people in Gaza,” another speaker said.
Melica Stinnett, one of the speakers at the rally and a staff member and graduate of UConn (CLAS ‘15), spoke about how she couldn’t imagine what the families in Palestine are going through.
“I’m a mother, I rock my children to sleep at night,” Stinnett said, “the weight of them in my arms is all I know.”
Stinnett also expressed her frustration towards UConn for not addressing the violence. She spoke of the Dodd Center for Human Rights, which from Oct. 25 – Oct. 27 held the Human Rights and the Global Assault on Democracy summit. None of the panels or discussions were dedicated to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Why has there not been a statement?” Stinnett asked. She specifically named James Waller, the Christopher J. Dodd Chair in Human Rights Practice. Waller’s work specializes in the Holocaust and genocide studies.
Stinnett, as well as many others at the rally, want to see a statement denouncing Israel’s actions and in support of Palestine from Waller, the Dodd Center and from President Maric. They also called on Biden to be supportive of Palestinian freedom efforts and to denounce Israel’s violence.
The Biden administration has proposed a bill that would send $14 billion to Israel for emergency military aid. The bill also includes $61 billion in aid to Ukraine. Republicans in the House of Representatives have countered with a bill that will only send the $14 billion to Israel and cut out money for Ukraine. The bill was set to be debated on Wednesday, Nov. 1.