*Name changed to protect anonymity
Although Palestine is more than 14,000 miles away, UC Santa Cruz’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) brought Palestinian issues to the forefront of campus awareness on April 19.
About 30 students met at Hahn Student Services to participate in the demonstration. There, they were organized into nine groups and marched to Quarry Plaza chanting “Free free Palestine!” and “Gaza Gaza, don’t you cry! Palestine will never die!”
Once in Quarry Plaza, a speaker read off instances of injustice committed by Israel against Palestine, starting in 1948. For each excerpt read, one of the nine groups of demonstrators collapsed to the ground, ending the march with what is known as a “die-in.”
Beginning in 1948, the Israeli occupation of Palestine has displaced more than 350,000 people and since 2005, 23 out of every 24 conflict deaths have been Palestinian, according to Vox in 2014. The speaker described moments in history that prompted the “deaths” of the UCSC demonstrators, including Al Naksa, the anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine.
Students who spoke at the demonstration expressed not feeling heard or supported on campus, and chose a die-in as a means to create a palpable experience for students to understand the hardships Palestine people endure.
“We wanted a way to get everyone involved and to symbolize what has been happening and to quantify it,” SJP member Laila Issa said of the die-in. “[We wanted] to show you there’s people lying on the floor. This is not something that’s abstract, this is something that’s happened and it’s continuing to happen.”
The UCSC march coincided with ongoing Gaza border protests in Palestine, which began on March 30 with the Great Return March commemorating Land Day, a resistance against the annexation of Palestinian land. Since 1948, Israel has annexed more than 4.2 million acres, about 6,500 square miles, of Palestinian land. The protests in Palestine are expected to last through May 15, Nakba Day, which translates to “the day of catastrophe.” Nakba day marks the exile of over 700,000 Palestinians in the 1948 Palestine war.
The initially peaceful Gaza border protests, of over 30,000 on March 30, were met with Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) authorities who fired live rounds into crowds of Palestinians, killing 39 and injuring over 5,500, according to The Middle East Eye.
The UCSC demonstration overlaps with Israel Week, which is put on by Slugs for Israel and Santa Cruz Hillel annually.
“The reason we felt it was necessary to showcase Israel on this campus is because many people are afraid to talk about Israel or engage in discourse with Zionists or pro-Israel students,” said Slugs for Israel President Kelly Rubin. “We wanted to show that we are proud of Israel but are still open to discussion and willing to understand others’ viewpoints on Israel.”
SJP, a pro-Palestine and anti-Zionist group, hosted the demonstration in response to Israel Week, said Issa and SJP member Sarah Salaam*. SJP wanted to provide a space on campus for students affected by the occupation and to shed light on the issue.
“People on campus [say], ‘I don’t wanna pick a side, I’m not educated, I’m not informed, I’m neutral,’” Salaam said. “[…] It’s not about picking a side. It’s about the liberation of the Palestinian people, of an indigenous group.”
In previous years, other SJP demonstrations have included organized mock checkpoints across campus to replicate the checkpoints IDF enforces to impede Palestinian movement, among others.
“Our message is that Palestine exists and that it exists strongly,” Issa said. “Regardless of the diaspora and the constant effort to exile us and make our lives hard over there and to kick us out, we’re here and we’re multiplying. This is our rightful land, we have the keys to our home.”