More than 350 people gathered on Hornbake Plaza at the University of Maryland Thursday for a walk-out and sit-in organized by this university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter.
Protest attendees criticized university administration’s “hypocrisy” in responding to ongoing violence in Palestine and demanded an end to this university’s “violent ties with military contractors,” according to multiple speakers at the demonstration. Protestors also called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
“We all stand here stopping this genocide and bringing truth to what’s really happening,” a Students for Justice in Palestine member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told The Diamondback. “If admin won’t do it, I think this walkout, the vigil, protest, this is kind of like an opportunity for us to show that us, as students, can take charge.”
During speeches, hundreds of attendees chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “Ceasefire now.” Community members also chalked Hornbake Plaza with messages to university administration, such as “Stop funding war crimes” and “Shame on U Pines.”
University president Darryll Pines told The Diamondback on Wednesday, the day before the protest, that students at this university “are allowed to exercise their free speech rights.”
After the chalking on Hornbake Plaza, the University of Maryland Police Department opened an investigation into “hateful, antisemitic sentiments” expressed at the demonstration, according to a statement from this university to The Diamondback.
“The offensive actions of a few should not reflect on the vast majority of protesters who were there to peacefully express their views, but there is no place for any antisemitic message, behavior or action at the University of Maryland,” the statement read.
According to another Students for Justice in Palestine member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, the investigation stemmed from a chalk message that read “Holocaust 2.0” and a chant performed at Thursday’s demonstration.
The anonymous member said several members of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter crossed out the message after seeing it. The message was a “faulty parallel” in “calling the genocide in Gaza right now Holocaust 2.0,” the student told The Diamondback.
The chant that is allegedly part of a UMPD investigation — “There is only one solution, intifada, revolution” — was not part of the organization’s “chant list,” the anonymous member added. For many Jewish and Israeli people, “intifada” is a word associated with violence and loss of Jewish life.
Intifada — “shaking off” in Arabic — refers to “an uprising against Israel’s military occupation” by Palestinian protesters beginning in 1987, according to the Associated Press.
The first intifada included Palestinian protests and a “fierce Israeli response,” the Associated Press reported. In the second intifada, Palestinian militants carried out suicide bombings in Israeli buses and hotels, the Associated Press reported.
More than 4,000 people died, including “vast numbers of civilians,” the Associated Press reported. About 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed in the second intifada from 2000-05, according to a 2005 BBC News report.
According to the anonymous member, intifada means “revolution” and “in no way means genocide of a different race.”
After the demonstration, this university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter said in a statement on Instagram that the organization “will always condemn antisemitism as well as any islamaphobia that arises during this fight for freedom.”
“We do not condone antisemitism, islamphobia or hate speech that arises and we request that students remember this at all points in time,” the statement read.
In a joint statement on Instagram, this university’s Chabad, the Washington, D.C., Anti-Defamation League and Maryland Hillel said the “deeply troubling” imagery at Thursday’s Students for Justice in Palestine demonstration is “dangerous and unacceptable.”
Students for Justice in Palestine’s walk-out and sit-in was one of several nationwide demonstrations Thursday as part of the international “Shut It Down for Palestine” movement.
The initiative, organized by several groups including the national branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, calls on community members to reach out to their legislators, urge divestment from “companies that are supporting Israeli genocide” and demand a ceasefire in Gaza, according to an anonymous Students for Justice in Palestine member.
The nationwide reckoning comes after a surge of violence in Israel and Palestine across the last month.
The Associated Press reported Friday that more than 11,000 people in Palestine and 1,200 people in Israel have been killed since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched an attack on southern Israel from the blockaded Gaza Strip that killed hundreds.
Israel declared war on Hamas on Oct. 8 and has since launched thousands of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, the Associated Press reported.
At least three Israeli airstrikes on Friday landed around the Shifa Hospital in Gaza, where about 60,000 Palestinians were sheltering, the Associated Press reported Friday. Thousands fled the Shifa Hospital this weekend, and the Associated Press reported Tuesday that there are around 2,500 Palestinians sheltered there. The hospital “can no longer function,” the Associated Press reported.
On Thursday, Israel implemented daily four-hour “humanitarian pauses” to allow civilians to flee the encircled territory, the Associated Press reported. More than 70 percent of Gaza’s population have fled their homes since Oct. 7, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
Astronomy doctoral student Ramsey Karim, who is Palestinian, recalled his father’s anecdotes about the displacement of about 300,000 Palestinians during the Naksa — “setback” in Arabic — in 1967 as part of the third Arab-Israeli War.
Karim said he has family in the West Bank and his life is “paused.” More than 150 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7, the Associated Press reported on Nov. 5.
He emphasized that participating in the walk-out helped him find a supportive community.
“This is really good for me because it shows that there are people around me that support,” Karim said. “That’s not something I find just like going to work in my department.”
Sophomore philosophy major Matt Foos also attended the event and said he is “horrified” by the ongoing violence in Palestine he has seen on social media.
“The things that I’ve seen I can never unsee,” Foos said. “It’s horrific.”
Foos added that he is “supremely disappointed” in university administration’s response to the violence in Palestine. Foos said he was glad Pines “showed solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters,” but he “stopped short” of supporting Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students at the university.
Pines sent two campuswide emails last month in response to the violence in Israel and Palestine.
In the first email on Oct. 9, Pines extended university support to “Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Palestinian” community members. Pines’ second campuswide email, sent on Oct. 13, said the university condemns Hamas’ attack.
Several attendees at Thursday’s event also addressed this university’s financial relationships with defense contractors.
One speaker pointed out this university’s relationship with defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The company, which supplies fighter jets and military equipment to Israel, has a “strategic partnership” with this university that dates back to 2010. The ties are an example of university administration’s “hypocrisy,” the speaker said.
“In 2019, Lockheed Martin donated $3 million to James Clark School of Engineering,” one speaker said. “President Pines has the audacity to remain silent in the response to the cries of his Muslim students to de-invest from programs that support the Israeli state.”
Doctoral international education student Fatikha Khasanova, who is Muslim, said her faith affects how she views the current situation in Palestine. Khasanova expected universities to serve as “mediators” for students, she said.
“However, it’s impossible because the universities are complicit due to having financial ties to organizations which actually are very, very much involved in one of the sides — on the side of the Israeli government,” Khasanova said.
Pines told The Diamondback on Oct. 27 that partnerships with defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin lead to “opportunities for our students to have internships and jobs.”
Foos said he hoped to see more support for Palestinians on campus after the walk-out and sit-in.
“Palestinians are here at the campus — they matter,” Foos said. “We stand with them.”