A speaker calls for the end of Israeli occupation of Gaza at a rally for Palestine Nov. 4 at the University of Iowa. (Photo by Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
IOWA CITY — More than 100 University of Iowa students and community members from across Iowa gathered Saturday afternoon on campus to rally for Palestine, calling for peace, justice and freedom from oppression as Israel continues its ground invasion toward Gaza City.
The crowd listened to speakers and marched downtown, waving Palestinian flags and chanting for an end to Israeli occupation. Many wore keffiyehs, a type of Palestinian scarf, as they protested.
University of Iowa senior Jenna Khan, one of the event organizers, said it’s important for people to see that there is support for Palestine on campus, where the atmosphere surrounding the conflict has been fairly quiet so far. Other than weekly protests put on by the Iowans for Palestine group in Iowa City, she said not much has been said in support of Palestine. The University of Iowa has not released a statement about the conflict.
“Even though I’m not with my family in Gaza, in Palestine, I think it’s still important for me to share my voice and speak for them even when they’re not heard, especially in America,” Khan said. “I think that there’s a lot of misconceptions and a lot of misinformation with Palestine.”
The protest comes amid threats of punitive responses from Republican presidential candidates and others who have labeled pro-Palestine demonstrations as antisemitic. One 2024 presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, has called for stripping Pell grants from universities that allow demonstrations favoring Palestine. Others have argued for deporting international students who express anti-Israel sentiments.
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More than 9,000 Palestinians have died in the month since the conflict began, the Associated Press reported Thursday, almost 4,000 of them children. Around half of the territory’s 2.3 million residents have been forced to evacuate their homes due to bombardment, which has also occurred to the south, where they are being told to evacuate to.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most in the initial attack by the Gaza-based terror group, Hamas, on Oct. 7.
As a Palestinian American with family in the West Bank, Khan said seeing the crowd Saturday and feeling the support of friends, peers and teachers at the university has made her proud and gave her hope that she would see a free Palestine in the future. Though it sometimes feels like those living here find it easier to stay in ignorance about Palestine than try and understand, she said that bubble needs to be popped.
Organizer and University of Iowa freshman Zehinabou Coulibaly said she’s glad to see that people haven’t lost their humanity and won’t let the crimes done against Palestinians slide.
Coulibaly said she’s experienced discrimination all her life as an African American and Muslim, and so she can’t sit aside as Palestinians are cornered and killed every day in Gaza. She hopes that this protest will go beyond just the university and make its way to the ears of political leaders, including President Joe Biden, who was called out in chants for allowing genocide, among others.
“I’m hoping these protests at least will open the minds of many people and make the Palestinian voices heard,” Coulibaly said.
Some University of Iowa students have seen pushback from state and national politicians over their pro-Palestine views, from a small counter-protest Saturday to responses to a social media statement from the University Democrats at Iowa.
The statement, signed by student representatives, expressed the student organization’s support for Palestine and condemned the ongoing violence against its people, ending it with “May Every Palestinian live long and free, from the river to the sea.”
They changed, then deleted, the statement after receiving backlash and requests to take it down, The Daily Iowan reported. The Iowa Democratic Party also called for the three student representatives who signed the statement to resign and affirmed their support for Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
State Board of Regents President Mike Richards also released a statement condemning acts of terrorism and voicing the board’s support of Israel and its people.
After the Iowa Democratic Party called for the University of Iowa students’ resignations, the Iowa State University College Democrats released a statement informing people of its decision to disaffiliate itself with the Iowa Democratic Party, due in part to its treatment of the University of Iowa group.
Khan said she’s been following the back-and-forth between the different organizations, and was happy to see the pushback the Iowa Democratic Party received. She condemned it herself, and said it goes against the Democratic Party’s values.
“Asking people to resign over a statement is very just contradictory, I think, to the Democratic Party,” Khan said. “So I think it also just kind of shows how deeply rooted this propaganda is and how deeply it stems in America.”
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