AU students stand divided at rally for Israel
Demonstrators and counter-protestors gathered on the quad to show support for Israel and Palestine
Members of the American University community who demonstrated on the quad Wednesday were divided amid current conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The Wednesday rally was organized by the AU chapter of Students Supporting Israel to give students an opportunity to mourn the country’s losses. Attendees shared their stories of grieving through speeches while those watching comforted students crying around them.
A group of counter-demonstrators showed their support for Palestine and faced the rally with handmade signs and a Palestinian flag.
The attack in Israel was organized by Hamas, a militant group with roots in the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department since 1997, as well as by the European Union and other Western countries.
At least 1,300 people in Israel have been killed since the attacks by Hamas began on Saturday. Over 1,500 residents of the Gaza Strip — a territory home to more than 2 million Palestinians — were killed during Israeli retaliation, according to The Washington Post.
Julian Weiss, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Affairs, is an event coordinator for Students Supporting Israel at AU. He said he came to show support after the “largest massacre of the Jewish population since World War II.” Weiss has an aunt and uncle with five children in Israel who are directly affected by the conflict.
“One of these kids, he’s like two years old; his dad’s gone [to war],” Weiss said, referring to his extended family. “They had to leave their house. They’re sitting in a bomb shelter. There’s bombs flying around them. And if Israel doesn’t win, they’re all gonna die, so I just don’t know how I’m going to sleep.”
Weiss said he wrote a seven-page letter to University administrators, co-signed by other AU student organizations, asking that they condemn the “massacre” happening in Israel, citing that the president of Georgetown University condemned the violence in an Oct. 8 email to students.
American University President Sylvia Burwell sent an email to the University community on Oct. 12 condemning the “terrorist attacks and their affront to humanity.”
Gabriella Weissbart, a junior in CAS and the vice president of Students Supporting Israel at AU, said she has been so busy organizing support for Israel and overwhelmed with worry for her family in the country that she had not slept in five days.
“I think everyone here, everyone on campus, should be supporting the lives of Israelis, the innocent lives of Israelis, and the innocent lives of Palestinians that are being ruled by a terrorist organization,” Weissbart said. “That’s what matters here. That there are terrorists terrorizing the people of Israel and the people of Gaza.”
She added that she feels unsafe as a Jewish student at AU seeing others support the conflict.
Heaven Santiago, a graduate student in CAS who attended the rally to learn more about current events, said tensions were high between the two groups of students.
“I heard a glimpse of [the Palestinian] side,” Santiago said. “I know one girl was shouting ‘genocide.’ She was asking ‘What about the genocide of my people?’”
Noam Emerson-Fleming, a sophomore in the School of International Service and student leader of the pro-Israel student organization AmeriPAC, spoke at the rally. He said his community is afraid to speak out about recent events.
“We deserve to have a space where we can feel safe; where we can be academic,” Emerson-Fleming said. “Where we can pursue what we want to do without basically facing antisemitism from our peers.”
Jacob Álvarez, a graduate student in SIS who attended the rally to support Palestine, echoed the sentiment that people are afraid to discuss the conflict, particularly when it comes to discussing Palestine.
“I’ve heard even just in the few days since the most recent war started, how a lot of students are afraid to speak up publicly, professors are afraid to speak up,” Álvarez said. “Yet when it’s for the Israeli cause, there seems to be none of that hesitation.”
He said he had hoped to see more pro-Palestinian protesters at the rally and felt an obligation to speak up because the current conflict hits close to home for him.
“I consider it a national liberation movement … so it’s morally on par with supporting Algerian independence or Vietnamese independence,” Álvarez said of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Álvarez said he “[takes] genocide really personally” because of his family’s history.
“I grew up hearing stories of how my family was treated in Ireland by the British. I am a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and so I grew up hearing about the Trail of Tears and how that happened to our family,” Álvarez said. “My family came from Puerto Rico and how that’s under ongoing colonial rule and so like, I see a lot of similarities with the Palestinian freedom movement and I just can’t bear to not say anything.”
A sophomore in CAS who stood alongside counter-demonstrators, said she feels scared as a Muslim student on campus and added that she has lost friends at AU over the issue.
“I feel like I have to walk on eggshells …” she said. “[It’s] just overall scary.”
Santiago said she is not especially informed about the conflict, and that she felt “left in the dark” about what is happening.
“All I know is that a terrorist organization targeted innocent people, and then Israel declared war,” Santiago said. “It’s tricky because two wrongs don’t make a right, you know? There should be no terrorists killing innocent Palestinians and there should be no terrorists killing Jewish people or Israeli people.”
Editor’s Note: The Eagle refers to the conflict as a conflict between Israel and Hamas in accordance with the Associated Press. The Eagle refers to Hamas as a militant group in accordance with the Associated Press. A source's name was removed from this article after publication for personal safety reasons.
This article was edited by Kate Corliss, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Olivia Citarella.