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‘Keep speaking out’: USF students host rally to advocate for Palestine

Several student organizations organized a march on Tuesday at the Tampa campus. USF students said they urged the university to cut ties with companies that support Israel in demonstration. ORACLE PHOTO/LILY BELCHER

Karam Shahrouri, a junior mechanical engineering major, shared a story from his mother about the brutality she faced in the occupied West Bank during Monday’s pro-Palestine rally.

He described how Israel Defense Forces would search his mother’s room at gunpoint and would build military bases on top of hills near residents. He said his mother just recently remembered to tell him the story because it is so normalized for Palestinians living in the West Bank.

“It was tough,” he said. “Because it’s just such a horrible story to share and it’s a personal thing.”

Shahrouri said he was marching on the right side of history during Monday’s rally to support Palestine. He said the march felt good because he could walk with people that supported him.

“It was really amazing, because, as the saying goes, we’re all Palestinians at the end of the day,” he said.

The rally was organized by Students for Socialism (SFS), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other organizations to urge USF to “cut all ties with genocide” in the West Bank. 

The procession began at the corner of Genshaft Drive and Alumni Drive and ended at the Marshall Student Center. The march was held on what was supposed to be the last day of the temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. 

Hamas released an additional 11 hostages Monday afternoon, prompting a two-day extension for the cease-fire.

Junior philosophy major Alina Atiq said the USF Foundation invests in companies that support Israel, such as Lockheed Martin. 

However, the USF Foundation says it is a direct support organization utilizing donor contributions as its “own financial system.”

In 2014, SJP petitioned the Board of the USF Foundation to divest from companies that profit from “home demolitions in Palestine,” according to a 2016 WMNF article

At that time, the Board declined the student request for divestment, saying “The USF Foundation will not divest investments or alter the investment policy or process, based on requests from individuals or groups.”

Three of Lockheed Martin’s four key business areas contribute to Israel’s national security, according to its website. USF is listed as a partner university of Lockheed Martin

The Oracle has reached out to university officials for comment on the students’ claims.

Related: USF pro-Palestinian student group files lawsuit against Florida

Protesters did not address the recent lawsuit filed by SJP against state and university officials on Nov. 21 in Gainesville federal court. The lawsuit challenges an order to disband the pro-Palestinian groups on campus, claiming that it violates the group’s First Amendment rights. 

The order was halted Nov. 9 after universities consulted their SJP chapters.

During the march, around 35 students held signs and chanted, “Biden, Biden you can’t hide. You signed off on genocide,” and “Not another nickel, not another dime. No more money for Israel’s crimes.”

Atiq discussed how international pressure led to the four-day cease-fire and more international pressure is needed for a permanent cease-fire. She also called the war “barbaric.”

“I tie that in with how people are dehumanizing Palestinians as terrorists and how they justify the murder of Palestinians,” she said.

Senior economics major Will Mleczko, who helped organize the march through SFS, said they chose to march the specific route to walk past the largest number of students possible.

Despite crossing campus and demonstrating in front of the MSC, passing students did not stop to listen to the speeches. 

When the group arrived at the MSC lawn, around six students spoke about the “terror” in the West Bank.

Shahrouri said he was not worried about his safety at the protest, but he had family members warning him to be careful after three Palestinian students were shot in Vermont last week.

Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said police officers and four volunteer faculty members from the Event Support Team were at the march and demonstration to ensure the safety of the students.

Mleczko concluded the half hour of speeches and chants outside the MSC by urging students to call U.S. representatives and USF’s Office of the President to demand a divestment in Israel.

Atiq said the call-in is also encouraged to show their solidarity and demand support for Palestinian students. 

She said seeing other demonstrations in support of Palestinians made her more confident in USF’s march, saying there is safety in numbers.

“I can definitely say that I don’t feel as unsafe as I did a couple weeks ago,” Atiq said.