UCLA students attend walkout, teach-in following violence in Palestine
Pictured are demonstrators from the walkout Thursday. The group gathered in Bruin Plaza before moving to Murphy Hall. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
A couple hundred people gathered in Bruin Plaza on Thursday during a walkout to demonstrate in support of Palestine.
The walkout – which was organized by more than 10 student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA and UC Divest Coalition at UCLA – began at 2 p.m. and involved speakers, chants and a march to Murphy Hall. The event followed attacks on Israeli towns Saturday, for which militant group and Palestinian political party Hamas took credit, according to the Associated Press. Israeli air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and further attacks by Hamas have also occurred throughout the week.
The speakers discussed their experiences protesting and called on the UC to divest from companies that had involvement with the Israeli government. Protestors, many of whom wore face masks to conceal their identity, also chanted, “Free, free, free Palestine!”
Students at the event were also told not to give their names to members of the media by individuals claiming to provide security for the event.
Alexander Harris, a third-year history and sociology student and member of UC Divest, said he attended the protest to call for the UC to divest from BlackRock, a company he said sells weapons to Israel. He added that he was disturbed by the recent bombings in the Gaza Strip as well as the kidnapping of individuals by Hamas.
Harris said he also felt it is important for students to exercise their right to demonstrate.
“Part of what makes this college and what makes our culture is the ability of people to speak freely – the ability of people to organize, interact with one another and to talk about what really matters to them,” he said.
A fourth-year bioengineering student who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons said they attended the walkout in support of close friends whose families have been displaced and affected by Israeli bombings. They added that they wanted to show support for everyone who has been affected.
“I’m here to show my solidarity for the innocent Palestinian people who are continuously being bombed, … for civilians on both sides who are suffering as a part of this,” they said.
Kasra, a UCLA student who asked to be referred to by their first name for safety reasons, said he thought the walkout was important to raise awareness of what was happening in the region.
“I think a lot of people, especially in America where we have a very American-centric view, don’t know what’s happening in other parts of the world,” they said.
Maram Makrai, a third-year political science transfer student, said she was worried about negative depictions in the media of Muslim people having terrorist associations.
Other students in Bruin Plaza held Israeli flags and called out in protest of the walkout.
Sam Leytes, a third-year mathematics transfer student, said he decided to join the group of people holding Israeli flags because it was important to him to show his condemnation of the attacks by Hamas, since he felt that that perspective was not conveyed during the walkout.
Some Jewish students expressed support for the protesters.
One Jewish student, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said they attended the protest because they wanted to show that some Jewish people support Palestine.
“There’s such a diversity of students on the UCLA campus,” they said. “I think we just need to know that there’s more perspectives out there.”
On Monday, Chancellor Gene Block released a statement sharing a message from UC President Michael Drake and UC Board of Regents Chair Richard Leib and offering support from campus services such as Counseling and Psychological Services. He called in the statement for mutual respect and asked Bruins to avoid mistreatment of their peers and colleagues.
Professors Saree Makdisi and Sherene Razack also held a teach-in Wednesday night to discuss the crisis in Palestine. The teach-in was held on Zoom to accommodate the high level of interest as well as in observance of threats made against students and faculty involved.
Razack, who is the endowed chair of women’s studies, said students who went to the room in which the teach-in was originally supposed to be held were met by individuals who made verbal threats and threw the students’ computers in the trash.
In a post on Instagram, SJP made similar allegations and added that it had heard about other incidents of threatening and aggressive behavior against people expressing support for Palestine in Westwood.
Some of the speakers at the Thursday walkout mentioned violence they experienced during their efforts to protest over the weekend. One speaker alleged that individuals in Westwood swarmed their car and held a knife to their friend’s neck.
Kian Kohanteb, a third-year political science student who is a member of the leadership of several Jewish organizations, said he had seen the allegations from SJP at UCLA and was saddened by reading them. He added that he fully condemns anything leading to fear or bullying.
In another post on Instagram, Hillel at UCLA said incidents of harassment and intimidation were unacceptable. It condemned reported agitation by non-students and called on people outside the UCLA community to avoid demonstrating on campus.
“UCLA Hillel is committed to an environment on our campus where ALL Bruins feel safe, secure, and that they have a space to express themselves,” it said in the post. “Hate at UCLA will never be the answer.”
Many people attending the event said they wanted to raise awareness about the conflict.
Anny Rodriguez, a graduate student in public health, said she attended the protest because she wanted to highlight how difficult recent events have been for Palestinian people.
“I think it’s always important to look at the ways in which everyday people in Palestine have lost their lives,” she said.