Hundreds call for University action in protest for Palestine

Oct. 23, 2023, 4:38 a.m.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered at White Plaza on Friday in a rally to demand the University express support for Palestinian students and opposition to Israeli retaliation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Across various speeches and a march from White Plaza to Memorial Church to Meyer Green, protestors called for the University to explicitly acknowledge war crimes committed by Israel and the history of the Israel-Gaza conflict, including the 75-year-long occupation of Palestine. 

Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who organized the rally, asked for a statement explicitly condemning verbal and physical violence against Palestinian students, alongside a commitment to keep them safe with resources developed in partnership with the Arab Students Association, Muslim Student Union and other student organizations.

SJP urged the University to divest from corporations they said profit off the Israeli occupation of Palestine, like Palantir and Microsoft.

The rally comes amid Israeli airstrikes that killed more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza and an ongoing siege that cuts off access to food and water. Israel launched its retaliation in response to an Oct. 7 surprise attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas that massacred more than 1,400 people. Nearly 200 people were taken hostage, Israeli authorities said.    

President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez condemned Hamas’ “deliberate attack on civilians” in an Oct. 11 email that followed a letter signed by dozens of faculty.

In an Oct. 19 email to students, Saller and Martinez expressed concern for safety and wellbeing on campus. According to the email, the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) is investigating “several incidents” on-campus related to the “violence in Israel and Gaza.”

On Friday, leaders and organizers from SJP stood on the White Plaza stage. Many of them covered their faces with sunglasses, masks and scarves. Some speakers did not provide names before speeches due to fear of retaliation.

Hundreds call for University action in protest for Palestine
The rally began in White Plaza and then made its way to Main Quad (Photo: ETHAN FUNG/The Stanford Daily)

Students crowded around the stage with Palestinian flags and posters that read “your tax $$$ are funding genocide,” “stop the genocide in Gaza” and “stand w/Palestine.”

An SJP organizer opened the rally by announcing a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of harassment and discrimination, including antisemitism, racism and Islamophobia.

The organizer expressed frustration with the University statements: “Palestinian student safety and mental health have not only been neglected but also harmed through one-sided statements by this university and an institutional support of war crimes.”

The Daily has reached out to the University for comment.

A Palestinian-American student spoke out against the murder of a six-year-old Palestinian American boy who was stabbed 26 times in Illinois. The student went on to say that anti-Palestinian violence has traveled to Stanford’s campus, where she says Palestinian advocates have been doxxed, harassed and physically harmed.

“Does Stanford need one of us to be murdered for them to care?” she asked.

Singing chants like “Free, Free Palestine,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” protestors filled the width of Lasuen Mall as they walked to Memorial Church. Alumni, who were on campus for homecoming weekend, stopped to take pictures and videos.

Some chants drew criticism on the grounds that they were antisemitic or an incitement to violence. Some political leaders criticized statements like “from the river to the sea” as a call for Israel’s destruction.

A Palestinian speaker addressed the criticism: “when as Palestinians we stand up against decades of ethnic cleansing we are called antisemitic.” She emphasized that no one, including Palestinians, wants people to die.

One Jewish student delivered a speech calling for “anti-Zionist Jews” to support Palestine’s liberation.  

Ronnie Hafez ’25, who is Palestinian-American, encouraged his peers to continue to advocate for Palestine.

“Palestinians are not numbers to be counted off a television screen,” Hafez said. “Palestinians are not people who are silenced under the rubble and then forgotten about the very next day.”

Protesters also marched to Meyer Green, filling up most of the surrounding amphitheater.

For Ava DeConcini ’25, who stood in the crowd at Meyer Green, this rally was deeply personal. Her grandmother was kicked out of her house at gunpoint during the 1948 mass displacement of Palestinians, she said.

DeConcini, who describes herself as white, said she feels a strong obligation to advocate for Palestine, since she will not face the same repercussions as Arab students for speaking out.

She acknowledged the extent of polarization on campus: “I feel like this is the first time we’ve seen a conflict break up friend groups and people that you thought you stood with and aligned with ideologically.”

At Meyer Green, other student organizations spoke in support of SJP. A Stanford Asian American Action Committee representative connected the conflict to historical efforts in Asia to fight western and Japanese imperialism.

As the rally came to a close, an SJP organizer said they intend to “camp out in White Plaza to continue to ask the University to protect Palestinian students.”

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