Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip hold a press conference and event in the courtyard of a school turned into a shelter in the city of Rafah

Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip hold a press conference and event in the courtyard of a school turned into a shelter in the city of Rafah, expressing gratitude and thanks to American and European university students for their solidarity with Gaza on April 28, 2024.

(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images)

People of Gaza Thank US Students Demanding End to Israeli Bombardment

"We hope they add pressure on Israel and the U.S. to stop the bloodbath that is taking place in the Gaza Strip and to prevent the invasion of Rafah," said one university student.

Spotlighting the decimation of their own education system by the U.S.-backed Israeli bombardment of Gaza over the past six months, dozens of Palestinian children and young adults held a rally in Rafah on Sunday to thank U.S. college students for dissenting against their government at mass protests in recent weeks.

The children held signs reading, in English, "Rebuild our schools and universities" and thanking students and faculty at schools including Ohio State, Harvard, and George Washington University for their expressions of solidarity since April 17, when an encampment was set up on the grounds of Columbia University in New York City.

"We hope they add pressure on Israel and the U.S. to stop the bloodbath that is taking place in the Gaza Strip and to prevent the invasion of Rafah," said Bayan Al-Fiqhi, a university student who had to stop attending school when Israel began its bombardment of civilian infrastructure across Gaza in October, in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack.

Supporters of the U.S. protests also wrote messages of thanks on their tents in Rafah, where about 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have been forcibly displaced since Israel began its attacks.

"There is no way to express our gratitude to the student protesters in America other than writing a letter of thanks to them [on] the displacement tents," one man told the Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency. "We thank all the students who stood with us and expressed their solidarity as a result of the genocidal war taking place in Gaza."

On social media, Lebanese diplomat Mohamad Safa on Sunday also expressed thanks to demonstrators in Spain and Iceland for marching in solidarity with Gaza, where at least 34,488 Palestinians have been killed since October, two-thirds of whom were women and children.

Nonviolent protests by students at Columbia and others across the U.S. have been met with major shows of force by local and state police, with violent arrests caught on video at institutions including Emory University, University of Texas at Austin, and Indiana University.

As Columbia administrators suspended more than 100 students and summoned the police to arrest them on April 18, the United Nations issued a report saying that "with more than 80% of schools in Gaza damaged or destroyed, it may be reasonable to ask if there is an intentional effort to comprehensively destroy the Palestinian education system, an action known as 'scholasticide.'"

Along with residential buildings and hospitals, Israel has included in its bombardment of Gaza more than 200 schools, with the enclave's last remaining university demolished in January when more than 300 mines planted by the Israel Defense Forces were detonated—prompting accusations that the attack was part of an ethnic cleansing campaign rather than self-defense.

"When schools are destroyed, so too are hopes and dreams," said the U.N. special rapporteurs on the right to education and on the situation in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. "These attacks are not isolated incidents. They present a systematic pattern of violence aimed at dismantling the very foundation of Palestinian society."

The protests at U.S. schools have escalated and spread across the country as Israel has indicated it plans to move ahead with a ground offensive in Rafah, where six women and five children were among nearly two dozen people killed in an airstrike on Sunday night.

Israel's near-total blockade on humanitarian aid has also left parts of the enclave already facing famine and about 70% of the population of northern Gaza "experiencing catastrophic hunger," according to Human Rights Watch.

By continuing to permit police crackdowns on nonviolent protesters on campus as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza spirals, said former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis last week, "U.S. university administrators [are] committing moral suicide in public."

On Monday, Columbia University officials set a 2:00 pm deadline for students to disperse from the encampment set up on the school grounds after talks between student organizers and the administration failed to reach an agreement. Students have called on Columbia to divest from all financial holdings in companies that support the IDF—a condition president Minouche Shafik said the school would not meet—and have said they won't end the protest until it does.

Organizers at the Ivy League school called on students to help "protect the encampment" ahead of the deadline.

Over the weekend, hundreds of arrests were reported at Northeastern University, Arizona State University, and Washington University.

According to The New York Times, more than 800 people have been arrested at campus protests since April 18.

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