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“No Justice, No Peace:” Student Organizers Hold Protest in Solidarity with Palestine

Lydia McFarlane/ Villanovan Photography
Students gathered outside of Connelly Center to protest in solidarity with Palestine.

More than 100 students participated in a walkout in solidarity with Palestine last week. 

The walkout took place from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9. Organizers encouraged students who were participating to wear black to show their support for Palestine. The protest started with a sit-in outside of the Connelly Center, where participants were encouraged to “sit down and take up space” so they could “be disruptive but peaceful,” in the words of one of the student organizers.

After roughly an hour, protestors walked past the Oreo, many carrying signs that read things like “Stop the genocide,” “Stop the U.S. war machine” and “Bombing kids is not self-defense.” The protestors marched to Tolentine Hall to conduct a sit-in outside the Office of the President. At 2 p.m., students left the building without issue.

A new student group, Villanova Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, organized the walkout.

“In the spirit of Veritas, Unitas, and Caritas, we believe that our voice needs to be heard to educate and see change within our campus,” SJP said in an Instagram post. “We will not stand by as Palestinians are being oppressed, displaced, and killed. As a privileged body of undergraduate students, faculty, and staff, we cannot tolerate this violence.”

Several students spoke during the walkout, leading protestors in chants of “Ceasefire now,” “No justice, no peace,” “Up, up with liberation, down, down, with occupation” and “Free Palestine.”

After Hamas’s attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people on Oct. 7, 2023, Israel declared formal war on Hamas. Hamas, which has been deemed a terrorist organization, is a group with a military and political arm that has been governing the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories in Gaza. There is a long history behind the conflict, which has been ongoing for decades. As the conflict endures, the United Nations has called for a ceasefire and has denounced both sides for their targeting of civilian infrastructure, resulting in high civilian casualties.

Many Villanova students joined those across the world criticizing the United States for its aid of Israel as Palestinian civilians die in Gaza. After two informative teach-ins on the issue, students decided to get together to plan an event to show their support for the UN call for ceasefire and Palestinian victims, and to condemn the United States government for its continued support of Israel.

“We chose to protest and assemble together in solidarity with Palestine,” student organizer Zoe Kim, a CLAS senior, said. “It’s challenging to proceed when a community is being displaced, oppressed and killed.”

Kim and other students understood the risks involved in protesting, such as facing potential backlash from the administration or other students, but the cause was bigger than the possibility of negative feedback for the student organizers.

“We could not back down when this catastrophe is happening, hence why we supported the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire in Gaza,” Kim said. “For me and others in Villanova Students for Justice in Palestine, we understood the risks that we were taking, but we could not in good conscience turn our backs to this crisis.”

Other student organizers felt their identities as Villanovans compelled them to get involved.

“I felt a great urgency to use my voice and organize a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people because I recognize that ignoring genocidal violence contradicts my identity as a Black woman and as a Villanovan,” CLAS junior Bailey Proctor said. “It is incredibly important that we as students honor our commitment to Villanova and ignite change, no matter how uncomfortable or afraid we might be.”

While the University does not have an official stance on who it is supporting through this war, it supports students’ rights to peacefully protest and use their voices to stand up for what they believe in.

“The University is aware of the event and expects it to be a peaceful gathering,” the University said in a statement to The Villanovan. “Consistent with any event, Public Safety is prepared to provide support to ensure a peaceful, respectful and safe environment. Villanova supports and advocates for freedom of discourse on campus as part of its mission as an institution of higher education and Augustinian Catholic University. As with all on-campus demonstrations, Villanova expects participants to engage respectfully, peacefully and with regard for the dignity of all our community members.”

Jewish students were also aware of the protest happening. The University’s chapter of Hillel, a Jewish student group, held an alternate event for Jewish students who may have felt uncomfortable, so they could be with their community. However, Hillel is grateful to the University for its support of Jewish students during this troubling time.

Sean Culley, a springboard fellow of the Greater Philly Hillel Network, which works with Villanova students, spoke on this.

“The University has done an excellent job in holding people accountable, helping them learn and grow, helping people feel included on campus and helping Jews feel like they matter on campus,” Culley said. 

Culley also said Hillel respects other students’ right to protest, and that the protest was respectful.

“Fortunately on Villanova’s campus, I have not witnessed antisemitic rhetoric being spread, which I am grateful for,” he said. “We should all agree that hate is wrong and that antisemitism should be combatted.”

Protest organizers encouraged phone banking, with a script and phone numbers to Pennsylvania senators John Fetterman and Bob Casey included on the protest handouts for students to call and demand their support for a ceasefire.

Students cheered as their peers spoke about the shared struggles among marginalized groups and the Palestinian people.

“We cannot be free until we’re all free,” a junior organizer shouted into the microphone. “The Black struggle is the Palestinian struggle.”

Villanova history professors Elizabeth Kolsky and Hibba Abugideiri helped to organize the past two teach-ins on Palestine and encouraged students to do their own organizing to show their support. Kolsky is Jewish and wanted to highlight the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Zionism is a word to describe support for a Jewish state.

“A critique of Israel is a political critique of a Zionist state, not an antisemitic attack against a religious people,” Kolsky and Abugideiri said to The Villanovan in a joint statement. “The State of Israel does not act on behalf of all Jewish people worldwide.”

Both professors said there is danger in equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, as it can justify the actions of the Israeli state, such as their bombing of civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

“It is very dangerous to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism,” they said. “It gives the government of Israel license to do anything it wants, including, most tragically, committing genocide in the name of the Jewish people who were themselves victims of genocide.”

In an open letter to the Villanova community, SJP called for the support of the University and Father Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D., which they were hoping to receive from him by sitting outside of his office.

“We as Villanova Students for Justice in Palestine implore Villanova’s President, the Reverend Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” the letter read. “We implore Villanova’s President, The Reverend Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. to verbally express Villanova’s solidarity with the people of Palestine.”

When Father Peter did not emerge from his office, students posted the printed letter onto his office door, along with flyers for the event. The student organizers told protesters they would attempt to organize a meeting with him next week to discuss their cause.

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Lydia McFarlane
Lydia McFarlane, Co-News Editor
Lydia McFarlane is one of three Co-News Editors for 2023 after starting as a Co-News Editor in the summer of 2022. Lydia is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. She is also minoring in Russian Area Studies. Lydia is active in several cultural organizations at Villanova, and hopes to combine her talents in journalism with her passion for social justice. Lydia's writing has also appeared in The Hill, Education Week and Resolve Philadelphia.
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