Opinion: Students resist: Berkeley to Gaza, Columbia to Jenin, UNH to Rafah

Demonstrators are on the Columbia University campus in New York at a pro-Palestinian protest encampment on Monday, April 29.

Demonstrators are on the Columbia University campus in New York at a pro-Palestinian protest encampment on Monday, April 29. Ted Shaffrey/ AP


Published: 05-04-2024 6:00 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at robertazzitheother.substack.com

It would be easy to write a column simply identifying the ever-expanding roster — now over 100, including at Dartmouth and UNH on Wednesday — of American campuses where opposition to America’s collaboration and support of ongoing famine, genocide, and ethnic cleansing in Israeli-occupied territories is being confronted by students and faculty demonstrating in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

That would be too easy.

Mostly non-violent confrontations, centered on issues of collaboration and divestment, are spreading faster than I can list them and I am so proud of the upsurge in political activism and engagement of America’s young people.

From Gaza to Ferguson: Resist!

I stand alongside them all, stand against force and intimidation by police in riot gear, summoned by cowardly administrations, violently breaking up mostly non-violent student protests and encampments centered on civil disobedience.

I stand firmly alongside student protests in this country, proudly mirroring the tradition of the anti-war protests of the 1960s and mirroring the transformative protests of the 1980s against apartheid and more recently in support of Black Lives Matter.

Last Saturday, Steve Tamari, a history professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, was among the demonstrators and observers arrested during a protest at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, calling for WashU to divest from Boeing.

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Tamari was arrested as police began their campus arrests on Saturday, arrested as he was recording students and activists at a pro-Palestinian encampment.

“Over the last seven months,” Tamari said, “I’ve been in agony watching my people in Palestine be slaughtered with U.S. bombs and funding. I joined the student-led protests on Saturday to stop the genocide and support and protect the students.”

Tamari said he was “body slammed and crushed by the weight of several St. Louis County Police officers and then dragged across campus by the police. As a result of police brutality, I am now in the hospital with multiple broken ribs and a broken hand” and said that one doctor had told him he’s lucky to be alive: “My lungs could have been punctured and I could have died on the ground as they abused me.”

I, a child of the 60s, stand alongside Steve Tamari.

Today, as a person who grew up in a land where Dr. Benjamin Spock and Yale University chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr. were persecuted because they opposed the Vietnam War, institutional and government abuse and denial of protestors’ First Amendment rights are not unknown to me.

As a child of the 60s, I remember where I was in 1963 when I learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

I remember the assassinations of Medgar Evers (1963), Malcolm X (1965), and MLK (1968).

I remember opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War beginning in the mid-60s, beginning at UC Berkeley in 1965, and growing into a broad political, cultural and social movement that challenged and defined America for well over a decade.

I remember the terrorist bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young Black girls.

I remember Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman. I remember Jonathan Daniels.

I remember arriving at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles minutes after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968.

I remember that my last political activity of that decade, while still living in America, was in Chicago, at Grant Park, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Shortly afterwards, I moved to Beirut to pursue a career in photojournalism in the Middle East.

I witnessed, clearly, that the years of student protest and activism on university campuses were central to challenging America not only to recognize its caste biases and the systemic inequities and injustices that divide its people by color, class, and ethnicity, but to learn from both the activism as well as from how the nation responded to the activism.

Central to challenging all Americans to endeavor to truly evolve and become a nation where all people are considered equal.

That is my history, that’s what I remember when I proudly witness students today rising up on our campuses and demanding an enduring ceasefire in Palestine, demanding divestment from military and Israeli interests, demanding an end to American complicity in war crimes being waged against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

Students demanding an end to the genocide, the suffering, the cruelty, the erasure of the Palestinian people.

Students engaged in freedom and justice without whom most Americans would be living in a world devoid of any acknowledgment of a Palestinian narrative.

Students without whom the American government, and most Americans, would be totally unaware that Palestinians have a centuries-old history.

Sadly, for many Americans, there are no Palestinians, no Palestinian right to self-determination, no Palestinian homeland.

“Facts do not at all speak for themselves,” Edward Said wrote in “The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After”, “but require a socially acceptable narrative to absorb, sustain, and circulate them.”

Facts are absent not because they don’t exist but because Americans don’t demand them. They are absent from mainstream media, absent from white Christian pulpits and, when they appear in academia, are often falsely denounced as antisemitic and therefore not worthy of consideration.

While it is true, as just witnessed in Columbia’s Hamilton Hall, that liberation and civil rights movements can be infiltrated by anarchists and antisemites, such malign infiltrations don’t delegitimize the rights of the Palestinian people to be a sovereign, non-colonized nation.

There are not two sides to this issue.

One is an occupier, one is occupied: They do not have equal agency.

While the occupier (Israel) and the occupied (Palestinians) aren’t today equal in political representation globally and regional negotiations, especially as America refuses to constrain Israel in spheres where it has authority, the power imbalance between them doesn’t make one people superior to the other, it just means Israel has bigger (mostly American) guns and an unfettered military over-willing to use them.

Israel, using the power of the strong, has been trying to impose its will on the occupied, Palestinians, for generations. Despite numerous wars, targeted assassinations, administrative detentions, settlement construction, land confiscation, housing seizures and demolitions and a discriminatory legal system, the Palestinians are still standing.

Despite the asymmetry of power, despite the racism of some Israelis like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said on Monday, “There are no half measures. [The Gazan cities of] Rafah, Deir al-Balah, Nuseirat – total annihilation. You will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven,” the Palestinians will persist until they are free.

“Palestinians have neither been intimidated nor persuaded to give up, and that is a sign of great will and purpose,” Edward Said wrote. “From that point of view, all Israel’s collective measures and constant humiliation have proved ineffective; as one of their generals put it, stopping the resistance by besieging Palestinians is like trying to drink the sea with a spoon... ”

This much is true: Israel cannot forever suppress Palestinian resistance any more than Palestine can ever win a war of liberation and, further, in a world that has so much violence, fear, and death it is obvious that racism and hatred cannot sustain either continued occupation or a war of liberation.

In ”Anatomy of a Genocide,” a “Report of the Special Rapporteur [Francesca Albanese] on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 to Human Rights Council,” published in March 2024, reads in part:

“Israel’s genocide on the Palestinians in Gaza is an escalatory stage of a longstanding settler colonial process of erasure. For over seven decades this process has suffocated the Palestinian people as a group – demographically, culturally, economically and politically –, seeking to displace it and expropriate and control its land and resources. The ongoing Nakba must be stopped and remedied once and for all. This is an imperative owed to the victims of this highly preventable tragedy, and to future generations in that land.”

This is an imperative owed to all peoples.