Valiant Struggle Being Waged by Students of US Universities against the Genocidal War on Palestinians

May 15, 2024 0 By Yatharth

The past few weeks in America have been turbulent. Students, in thousands, have been participating in protests marches and encampments at about 25 universities across the US, demanding their university administrations to stop investing in weapon manufacturing units and sell holdings in businesses profiting from Israel’s invasion of Palestine, thereby extending their solidarity with the people of Palestine against the genocidal war being waged on them. “Disclose, Divest, We will note stop, We will not rest” and “Free, Free Palestine” are the slogans ringing in unison in the atmosphere.

It is noteworthy that the universities facing resistance have enormous endowments running into billions of dollars, that are invested across financial markets, in stocks, real estate and investment funds! Alongside “divestment”, the demand for greater “transparency” or “disclosure” from the universities on their private holdings is also being raised in order to grasp the picture of their overall investment in Israel.

The pro-Palestinian student activists claim that the movement to ‘divest’ aims at ending their institutions’ complicity in atrocities and forcing the companies to realise the ramifications of their war-aiding activities. They conceive it as an achievable way to compel colleges to take action which would count as an important symbolic victory in terms of the cascading impact it might have on other sections of the civil society. This in a way, reflects the limitation inherent in the movement.

Students occupying the grounds of Columbia University, 18.04.24

Rosenzweig, a 23-year-old student at Brown University says, “I do believe that as a Jewish person, I have a particular responsibility to resist the instrumentalisation of my heritage. I don’t want this particular community to be profiting from apartheid, from war, from genocide.” A University of South California student in an interview to a reporter states that, “I think the solution is to get involved, because at least I can feel like I’m doing my part. Even if it’s not enough, I’m doing the best I can to make something of it. I find peace in that.” Eddy, a 24-year-old student at Yale University, while recounting the eight-day hunger strike he went on says, “I believe the fight for a free Palestine is a fight for the imagination that other worlds are possible, and that injustice should not be accepted”. The sheer grit and courage imbued in the students’ struggle with an anti-imperialist undertone despite being meted out with state repression is commendable. Elie Wiesel’s words, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”aptly describe the conscience of the resisting students and faculty members.

Encampments at University of California, Berkely, 23.04.24

Universities so far have blatantly turned down the exhortations to divest in response to student agitation. The overarching message has been that they would not alter their portfolios or sell assets linked to Israel. In a statement released last week, Yale said that it would not be divesting from weapons manufacturing because it did not “meet the threshold of grave social injury” that was necessary for divestment, according to the school’s Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility, or C.C.I.R.

In fact, the peaceful protests of students across various universities are being met with disciplinary actions without due process, suspensions, illegal detentions, arrests and police brutality thereby curbing their constitutionally recognized right to speech and peaceful assembly! What began as a wave of demonstrations started by students at Columbia University, who erected Palestine solidarity encampments as a result of which the University’s President summoned New York Police to dismantle the encampments and mass arrest the protesters in hundreds, ended up catalysing student population across several universities in the US as well as in other countries to join in and strengthen their collective struggle. The University of Southern California demonstrations ultimately descended into violence, with armed police arriving to disperse students with “rubber bullets and riot gear”. Similar shocking scenes played out in states including Georgia, where police used “tasers” on restrained students and “shot pepperballs” at demonstrators. Usage of “chemical irritants” by the police was also reported. Footage of students, professors and journalists being violently detained by officers are spurring outrage. In Austin, “state troopers mounted on horseback” clashed with the protesters resulting in injuries and arrests.

In an attempt to crush the protests, politicians from both Republican and Democrats continue to wrongfully accuse the students of “fueling anti-Semitism” – allegations vehemently denied by the protesters. Seeing the upward spiraling motion of the Pro-Palestinian students’ protests, House Speaker Mike Johnson on his contentious visit to Columbia’s campus condemned the demonstrations as “mob rule” and “virus of anti-Semitism” and stated that if protests are not contained quickly, the “National Guards” could be brought in! About 25 Republican Senators wrote for the federal law enforcement to act immediately for restoration of “peace”, prosecute the “mobs” for violence against the Jewish students and revoke the visas of all foreign nationals who took part in “promoting terrorism”. So called “progressive”, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her tactical statement said that the power of young people in shaping the country should not underestimated. In a befitting retort to the anti-Semitist claim, the student activists wrote in a statement that, “We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solidarity being forged amongst students – Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black, and pro-Palestinian classmates and colleagues who represent the full diversity of our country.”

A state trooper pepper sprays protesters at University of Texas, 29 Apr 2024

The faculty members too, in different universities held a mass walk out in support of the students. In Austin, they even announced plans on strike against the “militarized response” to peaceful protests. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Princeton University faculty and staff, in their statement, have not just openly denied claims of anti-semitism or intimidation thrown upon the protesting students to malign their anti-war resistance but also decried heavy-handed tactics by the police. They have even vowed to withhold their “academic labor” until their demand of revocation of all forms of state repression upon the students is met in order to uphold the spirit of “unrestricted scholarly inquiry and academic freedom”.

As we witness the pro-Palestinian young demonstrators fighting for divestment from Israel citing the deaths of more than 34,000 Palestinian people due to ethnic cleansing by bombardments and ground offensives, it is crucial to recall that the universities in America have a long history of being hotbeds of student activism.

Texas state troopers in riot gear try to break up a protest at University of Texas, 24.04.24

It was in 1964 at the University of California, Berkeley that the students began with small sit-ins and demonstrations against the McCarthy era “reforms” which placed limit on the political activities within public universities and free speech during civil rights movement and Vietnam-war era. The protests later escalated into a series of large scale rallies and protests demanding full constitutional rights on campus. Nearly 800 students were arrested. However, the university eventually succumbed and had to overturn the restrictive policies. The most prolific university protests against Vietnam War and U.S.’s invasion of Cambodia happened at the Kent State University, Ohio in May 1970. In a matter of days, the National Guards ‘opened fire’ into a sea of antiwar protesters killing four young students. Howard Zinn in one of his books recounts that the “The spring of 1970 saw the first general student strike in the history of the United States, students from over four hundred colleges and universities calling off classes to protest the invasion of Cambodia, the Kent State affair, the killing of two black students at Jackson State College in Mississippi, and the continuation of the war.” In the 1980s, Columbia University became the seat of movement to push colleges from divesting in business groups that were supported from the South African apartheid. The movement gained momentum in 155 colleges as a result of which U.S. Congress had to pass the “Comprehensive Anti Apartheid Act, 1986”.

This glorious history only affirms that generations of students have felt and acted passionately for burning political questions of their time such that they had the potential to leave a dent on the public opinion. And therefore, the pro-Palestine demonstrations, irrespective of whether they may or may not directly result into a policy change, they are nonetheless pivoting an anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and anti-war movement in the very seat of the world’s most dominant economic and military power which is bound to send ripples in other nations. At the same time, it is noteworthy that these protests have emerged in the background of months long pro-Palestine mass movements in almost every nook and corner of the world which have been loud and clear of the role of Israel and US in waging one of the bloodiest wars in human history and the demand of “permanent ceasefire in the besieged Palestinian enclave”.

Eman Abdelhadi, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, is right when she remarks that the heavy-handed law enforcement approach to Palestine solidarity protests only undercuts Democrats’ argument that electing Biden would protect the nation from “authoritarianism”! While it has been the Democrats who’ve been voicing that young people need to step up to save democracy but where was the “democracy” when state troopers intruded the university premises to physically assault students and faculty? This aptly sums up the deepening crisis of “liberal democracy” that America claims to be. Recently, Iran officially picked its side and voiced its concern for the harsh suppression of democratic rights of the students, the irony being its’ own massive crackdown on peaceful dissent and expression, in 2022, on the death of Mahsa Amini, who became the symbol of government’s systematic oppression of women, injustice and impunity. About 500 people died in extrajudicial killings including 69 children.

Police repression at University of North Carolina CH, 30.04.24

The widespread students’ uprising has but laid bare the façade of bourgeoisie democracy, which has not only made itself immune to the barbaric attacks in Gaza but has been consistently aiding and replenishing Israel for committing war crimes. The highly compromised and thwarted atmosphere of the universities where assertion of political rights has been made nearly impossible is what has come to be collectively recognized by the students. The protests are also an indicator of the ever-widening crisis of the universities worldwide where the very purpose of education, that is to develop a scientific-progressive vision of justice and equality in order to become carriers of the thought of historical and social progress is under attack from the class of big capital that is exploiting and expropriating every section of the society for its super profit and in order to maintain this state of affairs, we also find the upsurge of naked dictatorial-autocratic regimes or fascistic rule worldwide. The rapidly shrinking democratic spaces within the universities with a parallel takeover by the reactionary propaganda is a reminder that the society is slipping into the hands of regressive forces. The reality, therefore, is inevitably bringing the task of rebuilding of the society devoid of the chains of capital and exploitation i.e. on a socialist basis, that allows for freedom of critical thinking and action, to the forefront.

While it is true that the students’ movement has militantly raised the issue of national oppression of Palestine and genocidal war but it has failed to present any united central slogan to end national oppression, wars and genocides ‘once and for all’. Even though the movement lacks its’ all-encompassing character because of not keeping the finance capitalist class and the State in the centre of the storm yet its revolutionary underpinning lies in some noticeable factors. The fact that the struggle is around the question of ‘oppressed nationality’ and the ‘genocidal war on humanity’ rather than issues of immediate economic self-interest, that it is being fought in an inclusive, militant and uncompromising way against state actors without it being deviated in identity politics and that its’ bandwidth is increasing internationally despite barbaric state oppression are some of its distinguishing features. This experience of struggle is only educating and preparing the young people, in these fast-maturing times of decaying world capitalist crisis, for the final and decisive war against the bloodthirsty monopoly capitalist class for taking forward the society in the progressive direction. If one were to draw the linkage between the ongoing students’ protests, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the railroad workers’ strike, crisis of high cost of living and homelessness, rising job insecurity and poor working conditions amongst the working class, one could very well make sense of the intolerable pressure that the struggling forces of the society are reeling under. The fact of the matter is that capitalism has always been in a state of war with the humanity. Howard Zinn’s words, ‘They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war’ is truly relevant for these times. With this, as we offer our revolutionary greetings to the brave struggle of the students’ and teachers in American universities, we hope that they will continue to stand firm in the field and together with the working class forces, fight for the radical transformation of society which is the principal fight against wars and exploitation.