Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the University of Florida on Monday evening to call for the de-occupation of Palestinian territories.
Laila Fakhoury, a Palestinian business owner, led the protest near the northwest entrance to the University of Florida campus near Heavener Hall using a megaphone to rally the crowd’s chants for Palestinian liberation.
“Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry,” Fakhoury said standing atop a bollard.
“Palestine will never die,” the protesters chanted in response.
About 45 people began assembling at around 5 p.m. at the intersection of Southwest 13th Street and West University Avenue. Law enforcement patrolled the area on foot, and the event ended at about 8 p.m., according to participants.
Hasan Aldelamy, 20, a UF chemistry major whose family is from Iraq, said he agreed with what the protesters were chanting.
“When it comes to the Middle East, the full image only has ever come out decades after the damage is done,” Aldelamy said, comparing the national perception of the conflict to how informed Americans were when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Aldelamy said the conflict is a humanitarian crisis. But he said he believes the coverage is skewed and that the Hamas government doesn’t represent the people living in Gaza, partly because roughly half of its population is under 18.
“Gaza is a strip of land bordering the sea that’s blockaded by walls with 2 million people in it with a 70% refugee population. How much coverage do you think is leaving that area? Not to mention that electricity has been cut off.”
About 60% of the population in the Gaza Strip is classified as refugees, according to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East. Israel is also one of the strongest militaries in the Middle East, in part due to the more than $3.8 billion in aid it receives from the United States yearly.
Seraj Saboungi, 22, a University of Florida student of Syrian origin, said the destruction of Gaza reminded him of the destruction in Syria. He said he and his partner saw the flyer about Monday’s protest and decided they needed to support it.
“It’s just at a human level,” Saboungi said. “You just have to stand up for the people who do not have that voice, and they’re not able to stand up for themselves.”
Saboungi said he is concerned about the lack of aid that is crossing the Egyptian border.
“There’s a lot of trucks carrying tons and tons of gallons of water and food and just supplies that would help the people, and they’re just blocked, and they’re not allowed into the border,” Saboungi said in reference to the initial convoy of 20 trucks that passed through the Egyptian border on Friday, according to the Guardian.
Farrah Maswadeh, a 25-year-old Palestinian living in Gainesville, attended the protest with black face paint streaming below her eyes to resemble tears.
“My grandfather basically risked his whole life trying to free Palestine,” Maswadeh said.
Maswadeh said her grandfather was a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a coalition created by the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in 1964. She said she hopes to teach people about the history of the area with the protest.
Her sister, Sarah Maswadeh, also attended the protest.
“This is the least we could do,” Sarah Maswadeh said. “At least show up.”
Karina Yanes, a 28-year-old UF second-year studio arts graduate student who attended the protest, said she also has direct ties to Palestinians. She said her father and his family were forced to flee their home in 1948 when he was 1 year old.
“Nobody ever seemed to care when Palestinians were being abused and mistreated for decades,” Yanes said.
She said the protest demonstrated people are starting to care. Lexus Giles, Yanes’ roommate and a third-year UF graduate student, said the protest reminded her of student protests on U.S. college campuses in the 1960s.
“As an African American woman, I understand what’s going on immediately,” Giles said. “I wanted to show my support.”
Ghaya Abubakar, 22, a recent University of Florida graduate in linguistics and Arabic, said protesting is a privilege and one of the most important things one can do being so far from the conflict.
The protest comes less than a week after conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro spoke at UF on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Throughout his talk, Shapiro said that “Hamas needed to die” referring to Hamas militants, not civilians living in Gaza.
UF President Ben Sasse, a former U.S. senator, has also drawn national attention for his public support for Israel.
In a letter to the Gator Jewish community, Sasse condemned the actions of Hamas.
“Too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother,” Sasse wrote.
Aldelamy cautioned against making broad assumptions about the conflict.
“I think an important point is to avoid generalizations,” Aldelamy said. “Because if you want to generalize the Palestinian population as Hamas, then you’re dehumanizing them, and if you can’t humanize them, then you won’t hear their perspective.”
This is a breaking news story. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing email@example.com.