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Nakba Day demonstration at UCLA recognizes Palestinian displacement, resistance

Participants of the Nakba Day event Wednesday join an Armenian social dance that correlates to themes of resistance and liberation. (Zoraiz Irshad/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Catherine Hamilton

May 16, 2024 5:24 p.m.

Around 200 students and community members gathered at the base of Janss Steps on Wednesday to commemorate 76 years of Palestinian resistance.

Nakba Day – which is May 15, the day after the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence – recognizes the forcible displacement of around 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, according to the Associated Press. Following the war, Israel refused to let displaced Palestinians return to their homes if they were from what was established as the state of Israel, according to AP.

Hosted by campus organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine and the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA, the event began at 4:30 p.m. with speeches and included a march to the UCPD station on Westwood Boulevard. The group then went to Royce Hall at around 6:30 p.m., ending the event with the announcement of the United Auto Workers Local 4811 union’s authorization of a strike.

[Related: United Auto Workers Local 4811 votes to authorize strike]

(Darlene Sanzon/Daily Bruin)
Protesters march through campus on their way to the UCPD station, chanting phrases such as, “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.” (Darlene Sanzon/Daily Bruin)

Marie Salem, a doctoral student and media liaison for the now-dismantled Palestine solidarity encampment, said she thinks it is important to recognize that more than double the number of Palestinians forcibly removed in 1948 are currently displaced in the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations Population Fund, around 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced since the October onset of the war in Gaza.

“We’re bringing attention to that this is an ongoing Nakba,” Salem said.

Multiple people, including students, gave speeches from Janss Steps as they reflected on what they called the ongoing Nakba in Palestine.

Natalie, a graduate student who did not provide their last name, asked members of the crowd to join them in an Armenian social dance that correlates to themes of resistance, survival and liberation.

Adam Tfayli, the Undergraduate Students Association Council international student representative and candidate for the council’s presidency, said he hoped the event raised awareness about Nakba Day, especially for students who may be less familiar with the history of Palestine.

A third-year student who was granted anonymity for safety reasons said they attended the event because they believe it is important for people to pressure the UC to divest from companies associated with Israel. They added that they are dissatisfied that their university is complicit in and profiting from what they called a genocide in the Gaza Strip.

“At the end of the day, what really connects me to this is my identity as a person, because … an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere,” they said. “As an American citizen, our money is connected to this through tax dollars. As a student here, our administration – the UC Regents as a whole – is connected to this violence. They’re connected to this genocide.”

In a Tuesday meeting for the UC Board of Regents’ Investments Committee, the University’s chief investment officer said that if the UC were to meet student demands of divestment from weapons manufacturing, it would have to sell $32 billion of its $175 billion investments portfolio.

[Related: UC Regents disclose investments in weapons manufacturers amid calls to divest]

At around 5:45 p.m., the group marched through Bruin Plaza to the UCPD station, outside of which they chanted phrases such as, “UCPD, KKK, IOF, you’re all the same,” and “UC, UC, you will see, Palestine will be free.”

During the march, graduate student members of UAW Local 4811 learned that the vote to authorize a strike had passed. Desmond Fonseca, a doctoral student in the history department, said even though he felt the strike vote would pass, he was speechless after learning that it did.

“This whole strike vote is about our ability as workers to protest, to have free speech in our workplace, to not be discriminated against by our employer,” he said. “That’s the point of the result – to be able to be here to protest peacefully, to stand up against the genocide in Palestine and stand up for Palestinians.”

When the protesters returned to campus, they marched to the front of Royce Hall. A speaker who did not give their name referenced the significance of returning to the area following the violent attack against the encampment by aggressors April 30 and the subsequent police-led sweep May 2.

“It was right here, right here at Royce Quad where they brutalized us,” they said.

(Zoraiz Irshad/Daily Bruin senior staff)
A sign reading “Return life, land, liberty to Palestine” is pictured at the Nakba Day event. (Zoraiz Irshad/Daily Bruin senior staff)

At 6:45 p.m., Anny Viloria Winnett, the unit chair for UAW Local 4811 at UCLA, officially announced to the group that the strike authorization vote had passed. Of participating members, 79% voted in favor of the strike.

“We have chosen to stand up and to come together and to refuse to be silenced,” she said. “You did not have to be there that night to understand that that was simply unacceptable. To understand that if we run this university, we have to be in control of our working conditions, which includes our ability to … peacefully engage in conversations that change the way our institution engages with what’s happening right now in Gaza.”

A representative from UC Divest said in a speech that movements are stronger with shared visions and goals. They added that the struggle of protesters and those in the Gaza Strip are connected.

“On Nakba Day, we are remembering 76 years of brutal occupation, 76 years of genocide, 76 years of imprisonment and repression and forced starvation and carpet bombing and settler colonialism,” they said. “But we are also remembering 76 years of resistance.”

Contributing reports from Shaanth Kodialam and Patrick Woodham, Daily Bruin staff.

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Catherine Hamilton
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
Hamilton was the 2023-2024 News editor and a Copy staff member. She was previously the 2022-2023 national news and higher education beat editor and a national news contributor.
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