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Are the student protests for Gaza the last hope for America?

From America to Australia, student protests for Gaza could be the last hope for Global North's redemption
5 min read

Aya Hijazi

05 May, 2024
Opinion: Egyptian-American activist Aya Hijazi argues that the campus protests for Gaza are an awakening that could shift the West towards justice in Palestine
Students watch as pro-Israel protestors demonstrate outside the gates and student demonstrators occupy the pro-Palestinian "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" on the West Lawn of Columbia University in New York, NY on Thursday, April 25, 2024 [Getty]

As Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza enters its seventh month this week, adding to seventy-five years of incremental ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the only ray of hope lies in raising voices loud enough to pierce the silence and invisibility that Israeli, US, and European institutions have attempted to impose between Gaza and engaged citizens worldwide. The student protests sweeping across Western campuses may be the best chance to achieve that.

On April 18, a few courageous Columbia University students captured the world's attention with an encampment for Palestine, intending to address US complicity in Gaza.

They chose not to resign themselves to watching the genocide unfold on their phones while no one intervened, or at the very least, to give voice to the silenced cries of Palestinians in Gaza and the millions worldwide who cry out for them.

A few weeks earlier, a long-anticipated but diluted Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was embarrassingly disregarded and quickly forgotten, as if it had never happened. The United States abstained and then falsely labeled it non-binding.

An ICJ ruling warning of an impending genocide was also dismissed. The United States and most European powers continued to provide weapons and military aid to Israel’s genocidal regime while many cut funding to UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing relief to Gaza, based on discredited Israeli allegations.

Global intifada for Palestine

The students who spoke out against this surreal duplicity quickly triggered the repressive instincts of the US establishment.

Instead of upholding the ethos of liberal education, where students learn how to "make the world a better place," one where genocides should not occur, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik - a British Egyptian woman - took a remarkably illiberal step and called on the notorious New York Police Department to suppress their students' voices.

Though I condemn her actions as a longtime activist interested in grassroots movements, I anticipated that her actions would backfire. If you want to inspire free spirits and fuel their movements, then apply force against them.

Sure enough, the brave and dedicated Columbia students were inspired to continue and expand their actions. In a rare moment of hope, pro-Palestine encampments spread rapidly across the United States and spilled over into Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, and even Australia.

A global intifada for Palestine was ignited.

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Last hope for a generation?

The world, but more importantly, the betrayed and forsaken free spirits in Gaza, felt the solidarity. University students in the United States are finally able to amplify their voices loud enough to break through the anti-Palestinian barriers of US institutions.

US universities and the government, from the executive to the legislative, have responded so far in ways reminiscent of the dictators they like to denounce, in two profound ways.

The first is through physical force, suppression, intimidation, and the arrest of student protesters.

The second is through defamation. The White House and mainstream media quickly denounced protests as anti-Semitic and uninformed. The US House of Representatives passed a bill redefining anti-Semitism as a radical anti-free speech measure intended to grant sweeping powers to the federal government to crack down on protests.

Yet, at this critical time, where the pendulum of history swings between progress and the liberation of natives from oblivion through settler colonialism, and their complete annihilation as a people with an identity, we must align ourselves with hope—the voices of university students echoing the cries of Palestinians in Gaza, unafraid to demand full liberation.

As the horrors of an imminent invasion of Rafah loom, so does the awakening of citizens in the Global North from indoctrination and therefore complicity in the horrors of Zionism. Yet, this prompts us to wonder: How long can US institutions ignore the awakening and continue to crack down on its leaders and fabricate lies about them as they have consistently done about Palestinians?

US institutions, if not for the sake of justice but for their own survival, must embark on a path of self-correction. Otherwise, they will find themselves losing credibility with their population and future generations.

University students must persevere for this reason, and I have faith that they will. Their struggle is not symbolic, nor only for the sake of solidarity, but is one where their righteous fight can bend the arc of history towards justice, progress, and liberation.

With all eyes on Gaza, how the United States responds to its students fighting for Gaza, and how history unfolds, will determine, at least for this generation, whether there is any hope in justice and humanity, or if it is all in vain.

Aya Hijazi is an Egyptian American activist. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School as well as degrees in law and Conflict Analysis and Resolution. During the Arab Spring, she returned to Egypt where she established an NGO, Belady--An Island for Humanity. After the coup, police forces raided Belady and arrested Aya; she was imprisoned on fabricated charges for three years and was released after her case received international attention. She is now back in the US where she restarted Belady with a mission to defend human rights and freedom. 

Follow her on X @ItsAyaHijazi

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.