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‘We knew we had to do something’: USF students rally to show solidarity with Palestine

Students expressed their support for Palestinian people in an emergency rally outside of the USF Library on Thursday. ORACLE PHOTO/JULIA SAAD

Around 50 students rallied in the rain on Thursday afternoon to express their solidarity with Palestine at the Library, holding signs and waving flags. 

Students chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Free, free Palestine.” They expressed their position on the conflict, by chanting “One, two, three, four, this is not a religious war. Five, six, seven, eight Israel is a terrorist state.”

Students for Socialism (SFS) organized the half-hour rally and was joined by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Tampa Bay Community Action Committee (CAC) and other students concerned about the international conflict.

A student with SFS, who wished to remain anonymous, said the rally was an opportunity to protest violence against the Palestinian people. 

“We’re aware that there is violence on both sides and that has to be kept in mind. And we are all here opposed to Hamas. We are all here opposed to Hezbollah. We’re all here opposed to Islamic terrorism. We’re all here opposed to extremism,” they said.

“But the truth is, Israel is the one who has all the power, holds all of the cards. Israel, if they really wanted to, could have peace tomorrow if they so choose.”

They said real peace requires justice and the return of the Palestinian people.

“We do not hate Jews. We do not support genocide. What we want is a free, secular, independent Palestine where Jews and Palestinians are able to live in peace,” they said.

On Oct. 7, Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., launched an unexpected attack on Israel, according to a Wednesday BBC article. The attack prompted the Israeli cabinet to declare war against Hamas, according to the Council of Foreign Relations.

The group gathered at the MLK fountain, protecting handmade signs and flags with umbrellas. They then marched to the Library, past crosswalks blocked off by University Police (UP). 

Outside of the Library, which was the original location posted on social media, the students continued the rally.

A handful of UP officers were present at the protest to monitor the situation. One SDS member, who wished to remain anonymous, said they informed USF of their plan to rally and communicated with officers that the demonstration was intended to be peaceful. 

UP Public Information Representative Michael Lavelle said blocking the crosswalks was not specifically coordinated with the protesters ahead of time. He said UP responded to the movement of the group to ensure safety for protesters.

The SDS member said their organization requested UP presence at the rally because of social media threats organizers of the rally had received. 

They said they were concerned about their safety ahead of the rally after seeing posts on the USF Snapchat story. A student with SFS, who wished to remain anonymous, said they told members to wear masks and cover their faces so they would not “get blacklisted” for their involvement with the rally.

A SFS student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the on-campus rally was organized after seeing protests outside campus after the initial attacks.They said that while many students attended the off-campus rally, they wanted to host one on-campus to show USF students also stand with Palestine. 

“We knew that we had to do something. We knew that we had to stand with Gaza. We knew that we had to stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in America and in Tampa,” they said.

One student’s motivation for attending was their concern for children affected by the conflict. The student, who wished to remain anonymous, said their concerns have grown after seeing images and videos of children being killed. 

Ahead of the early October attack, tensions along the West Bank and Gaza strip have escalated following the deadliest year for Palestinian children in the area in the last 15 years, according to an Aug. 28 Human Rights Watch article

Like other Palestinian students at the rally, the student personally knows citizens in Gaza and the West Bank who are being impacted by the war. They said it was important to attend because educating students is their way of supporting them from overseas. 

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, took off from their job to attend the rally because it was important to them to show their support for Palestine. Their family is from Palestine and, prior to the war, they planned to visit Palestine over the summer. Now, they said they are afraid to return to their home because of the conflict.

“At this point, I don’t even know if we are going back. I don’t want to feel that fear of not being able to go back to my home,” they said.

After seeing the turnout for the rally and the mutual support of USF students, they said they felt a sense of pride.

“To see that people are standing here, not just yelling for Palestine, but also in the rain, I think that really shows something,” they said. “I think it shows us that, if it’s raining, snowing, pouring, terror, whatever it is, we’re always here to stand up for our people regardless.”

Editor’s note: For privacy reasons, The Oracle refrained from providing names of those who requested to remain anonymous.