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Students issue demands, protest in support of Palestinian community

Protestors marched Thursday to deliver a letter to President Michael Crow affirming demands from three Palestinian-supporting groups

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Groups including Students for Justice in Palestine march in front of the Fulton Center on the ASU Tempe campus on Thursday, May 27, 2021. Students delivered a letter addressed to ASU President Michael Crow with their demands, including for ASU to divest from HP Inc. and Caterpillar construction.

A group of over 40 ASU students and alumni gathered outside Old Main Thursday afternoon and walked to the doors of the Fulton Center on the Tempe campus, shouting many chants, including "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!"

The protestors, including students from three groups — Students for Justice in Palestine at ASU, the Palestine Cultural Club at ASU and the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance — marched to the building to deliver a letter to President Michael Crow regarding a list of five demands the groups sent to him on May 20.

The protesters were not permitted to enter the Fulton Center, but the group circled the building several times until Becky Eisenberg, assistant to the executive vice president and provost, came outside, took the letter and guaranteed it would reach Crow. 

The demands call on ASU to end its study abroad program for counterterrorism in Israel, condemn Israeli attacks in Gaza and the displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, break ties with HP Inc. and Caterpillar that "contribute to the displacement of and human rights violations against Palestinians," bar Israel Defense Forces from being on campus and release a statement in support of Palestine.

"We laid out five demands to the university, on behalf of Palestinian students and those who support human rights. Even though we should be asking for more, we are only asking for harm reduction from the university," said Samia Muraweh, the outreach director for SJP and president of the PCC, in an email. 

After the University did not respond to the demands issued by the three groups for five days, Tempe Dean of Students Cassandra Aska met with a group of students for a discussion on May 26. 

In a statement provided to The State Press, Aska said the University has a diverse community of students that aims to improve the lives of everyone. 

"We've heard from students rightfully concerned about recent violence in the Middle East," Aska said. "We had the first of many constructive conversations with them to understand these concerns and we will work with them on ways to support our students. We support and encourage tough conversations and these will continue as the ASU community seeks to engage in the problems facing society both now and in the future." 

The students at the protest, however, feel that they are past the point of having conversations.  

"They want us to focus on discussion and discourse, and we’re past that honestly. People already know what’s happening," said Muraweh, a senior studying computer science. "We need to educate people, but we can't debate human rights anymore."

Groups Protest in Support of Palestinians Suffering From Israeli Violence

The demands from the campus groups come after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group in power in Gaza, that began after several weeks of tension during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month during which Muslims fast during daylight hours.

On May 10, Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, fired stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinians, injuring 300 people.  

The violence was spurred in part by the forced removal of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Hamas demanded Israeli forces leave the Al-Aqsa compound and fired rockets at Israel to respond to the forced removal and confrontation between Palestinian protesters and armed Israeli police at the mosque. 

Israeli forces then responded with attacks that killed more than 254 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

The Israeli military said 12 people in Israel were killed in the state during the 11-day war.

Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Egypt on May 20, and it has held, despite an incident at Al-Aqsa where Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians. Both Hamas and Israel claimed victory following the cease-fire.

The years-long push for BDS growing, but it continues to see resistance

Students at ASU have attempted to encourage the University to cut ties with Israel for several years. ASU’s SJP chapter created a resolution set to be discussed by Undergraduate Student Government Tempe this past April that aimed to yield from the University a condemnation of the human rights crimes committed by the Israeli government and state. 

The resolution, SR-09, also called upon USGT to participate in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, also known as BDS. Started in 2005, the Palestinian-led movement encourages individuals and entities to withdraw support from Israel financially and culturally to pressure the state to recognize the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, allow Palestinians to return to their homes and end its occupation and colonization of Arab lands. 

Before an April 13 USGT meeting, Senate President Katherine Hostal removed the resolution from the meeting's agenda, saying SR-09 was outside of USGT's jurisdiction as it is a "non-partisan governing body that respects individual's personal political beliefs."

READ MORE: Students voice concerns on BDS resolution's removal from USGT Senate agenda

The removal of the resolution in April resulted in significant student support and opposition, but the incident was not the first time BDS has been discussed at a USGT meeting. 

In December 2019, USGT passed a resolution in support of Jewish students at ASU after removing four resolutions, one of which called on the University to divest from corporations involved with "human rights violations." Many of those companies were from Israel. 

"We're done having discussions and dialogue about this issue, the students want BDS and we want it now," John Idalis, an ASU alum and former SJP president, said at Thursday's protest.

Just a month before the passage of the resolution in 2019, several members of the Israel Defense Forces were invited by a variety of Jewish groups on campus to speak.

A group of students who were protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement combined with others at an event featuring IDF soldiers to stage a "die-in," where individuals lay on the ground, imitating death.

Many students were upset by the presence of ICE and IDF on campus. IDF's appearance on campus is addressed in the list of demands to Crow. 

Madeleine Steppel, the treasurer and a member of the board of Jewish Arizonans on Campus at ASU, said in an email Crow is right to not respond to the demands and called the BDS movement antisemitic.

"Palestinian students deserve support just like any other student at ASU, and they are able to receive it if they are willing. But the school has neither the responsibility nor the authority to protect people in Gaza, Israel, or any other place in the world," Steppel, a sophomore studying journalism and religious studies, said in an email.

The three groups that issued the demands will have another meeting with the University in two weeks, Muraweh said. In the meantime, the students who attended the protest Thursday hope the letter will continue to draw the attention of the University, if nothing else. 

"We are not stopping anytime soon. We are expecting to hear some sort of response from ASU and Michael Crow, and we won't stop until ASU divests from companies that are contributing to the ethnic cleansing of our families," Muraweh said. 

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