Student camps – solidarity with Palestine

Image: Alfo Medeiros


It is essential that we who support the movement against the genocide in Palestine draw the important lessons from similar protest movements in the past

Inevitably, historical questions are raised in public discourse when there are outbursts of outrage like now in the student movement in solidarity with Palestine and against the genocide in Gaza. With more than 100 occupations of fields university students in the United States and dozens more in Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America, the pro-Palestinian student movement has captured the imagination of millions of people around the world against the brutal genocide happening in front of our own eyes in Gaza.

It is essential that we who support the movement against the genocide in Palestine draw the important lessons from similar protest movements in the past. As part of this process, it is also necessary to debunk the abuse of history evident in the media, governments, and pro-Israel organizations regarding the current wave of protests on American campuses. Below, we point out some abuses, among many others.

As Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University well recalled, on the library's official website and other Columbia University websites there are tributes to the students who occupied the campus in 1968 against the Vietnam War, even though the university itself at the time called the police to violently crush the protests. The student movement of the 1960s-1970s is rightly praised for its important role in ending the US war against Vietnam that killed more than a million civilians in the country not to mention hundreds of thousands in Laos and Cambodia.

On April 30, the administration of that same university, supported by mainstream media, politicians from the two main political parties, pro-Israel organizations in the US (and Brazil) and the Israeli government, praised the violent eviction of the camp in solidarity with Palestine by the New York police with hundreds of prisoners. It was repeated by police at the same time at the City University of New York and the next day at New York University.

Legitimate student activism that played a crucial role in struggles for a better world is praised in the collective public memory by politicians and rulers when it is abstract, a thing of the distant past, but not when it is a current confrontation over exactly the same things involving freedom of expression. and social movements. So far, there have been violent police evictions on several campuses in the US with more than three thousand students arrested as well as dozens of teachers. In one of the most shocking scenes, Professor Annelise Orleck, Jewish and head of the Department of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, was violently arrested on the 1st. May while trying to protect students and negotiate with police.

Meanwhile, police have routinely ignored or even protected, aggressively and violently provoked by pro-Israel protesters. In the 1st. In May at the University of California, Los Angeles, Zionist thugs injured 25 pro-Palestinian students, an attack completely ignored by the police.

Another glaring example: the media, governments, police and pro-Israel organizations saying that the word “intifada” – claimed by students in solidarity with Palestine – means, by definition, violent attacks.

It is a distortion of the Arabic word meaning “revolt” in general. In Arabic, the peaceful uprisings of the Arab Spring, for example, were called intifada. On the Arabic website of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is called an intifada. Even so, the meaning of the word is distorted to justify the criminalization of legitimate current social movements.

Lastly, Israel supporters saying that pro-Palestinian camps on US campuses are illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned segregation in the US. The Act was established as a result of several years of mobilization by the civil rights movement. Thousands were arrested and dozens killed in acts of civil disobedience. In addition to the hypocrisy of Israel supporters talking about “segregation” while supporting apartheid in Palestine, it is a blatant abuse of history.

At the University of Mississippi, the scene of one of the most disgusting examples of racism in United States history when white supremacists tried to prevent the first black student from entering the university in 1962, there was a similar scene on May 3, 2024. A crowd of students white men with American flags against pro-Palestinian student camp witnessed a white student confronting a black woman at the camp imitating a monkey with gestures and voice. The governor of the State of Mississippi tweeted that the demonstration by white students “warmed his heart”.

Were students in the US in the 1960s-70s wrong about the Vietnam war? No. Were they wrong about apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s-80s? No. Were they wrong about the brutal and illegal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s? No.

They are not wrong about the genocide in Gaza.

*Sean Purdy He is a professor of United States history at USP. Author, among other books, of The general statesman: Douglas MacArthur (intermediate). []

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