This article has been updated.
More than 50 Cornell students answered the Cornell Collective for Justice in Palestine’s call to “stand with Gaza” on Wednesday by gathering on Ho Plaza in support of protests in the Gaza Strip.
Speakers at the rally said that the recent clash between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers is neither a geopolitical conflict nor a religious clash, but a moral recognition of human rights violations.
“We are standing here today to protest the systematic killing of innocents, of peaceful protesters, of children playing on the beach, of journalists who bring us the truth,” said Amal Aun grad, who is a Palestinian resident of Israel. “We are standing here today to support human rights and to recognize that while we’re all created equal, this war is not.”
Gazans organized a widespread protest against 70 years of “oppressive” Israeli policy on March 30, the CCJP said. More than 35 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers near the border and more than 1,000 injured since then, The New York Times reported. The Times also reported that Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza — and which the U.S. has deemed a terrorist organization since 1997 — supports the protests, and the Israeli government has accused some of carrying out attacks under the cover of the protests.
“You don’t have to know about what’s going on in Palestine to join students for peace and to stand in solidarity with Palestine,” said CCJP founder Prof. Darlene Evans, creative writing.
This “Great March of Return” along the militarized border between the Gaza Strip and Israel has attracted protesters of all ages and armed Israeli soldiers to the Gaza border.
“This demonstration is happening here at Cornell, but I can promise everyone standing here that demonstrations like this are happening all over Israel and there are Israeli citizens who do not want these actions to go through,” said Nitzan Tal, grad, an Israeli citizen.
“You don’t have to be Palestinian, you don’t have to be from one religion or another. You don’t even have to be on one side of the political map,” Tal continued. “All you have to be is a person who sees the picture clearly and who sees children and people without guns being shot down.”
CCJP has said that the Israeli army has used tear gas, snipers, tank shelling and air strikes to qualm the protesters.
“It’s not a conflict between equal sides,” Aun said. “It is not a dispute or a clash. And as many people here at Cornell have asked me before, no, it is not a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews.”
“It is an occupation, colonization and erasure of the people,” he continued. “There are no equal sides. It is a war between an occupier and an occupied, an oppressor and an oppressed, the powerful and the powerless.”
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has reported that Israeli combatants have shot and killed at least 39 Palestinians since the beginning of the march on March 30.
Thousands more have been injured, the CCJP said at the rally. No Israeli casualties have been reported, according to the health ministry. Palestinians in Gaza, numbering nearly 1.5 million, have little access to clean water, food or electricity, but the Great March of Return calls not for the alleviation of suffering but for the freedom of movement, according to the CCJP.
The marchers want to return to their former Palestinian homes, now inside Israel, club members said. For 11 years, Israel has enforced a complete land, air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, protesters at Cornell said.
Aun said the international community sees Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison.”
At the event, a CCJP representative collected signatures for a petition urging New York state senators to recognize what the group says are Israeli human rights violations.
The group also seeks the re-evaluation of American political dollars that support Israeli military efforts in Gaza, Tal said at the event.
“The American government is complicit,” Tal said. “I invite all of us to not only look at American dollars but to look at Cornell’s dollars and to look at where those are invested and to start make our voice heard within our small circle of influence.”