On Wednesday, students silently stood outside Armstrong Student Center at Miami University, holding Palestinian flags and signs that read, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The silent protest was held by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, an armed Palestinian militant group. On Oct. 7, Hamas militants launched missiles at Israeli towns, killing thousands on the Jewish holiday Shabbat and taking roughly 200 civilians hostage.
In response, the Israeli Defense Force issued retaliatory airstrikes on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel formally declared a state of war the next day, and over 4,000 Palestinians have been killed so far.
“We’re leading a silent protest because of the constant bombardment and siege on Gaza,” Jacky Linden, the director of advocacy for SJP, said.
Although the protest was hosted by SJP, Linden said it was open for anyone to join, and over the course of two hours, more than 20 students joined together. In addition to the protest, SJP had an information table set up with facts from various organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations.
Umar Arshad, vice president of SJP, said he was pleased with the turnout, especially because he feels that students are not actively engaged in humanitarian movements on campus.
“On this campus specifically, I think a lot of people aren’t aware, and I personally know a lot of alumni, Arab students, Muslim students, pro-Palestine students that just didn’t feel like they belonged here,” Arshad said. “So I think for us to come out here in the midst of recent events, it was to show that we do stand with them, we are here, and there is a space for those sentiments.”
The students protesting were joined by staff, administrators and the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) to oversee the event. Scott Walter, assistant vice president for Student Engagement, invited Kim Vance, director of the Center for Student Engagement, Activities, and Leadership; BaShaun Smith, Dean of Students; Katie Wilson, director of Armstrong; and several others.
“I have a team of people that I call on for different times and different events, and at the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that protests, rallies, demonstrations follow our rules and regulations,” Walter said.
Wilson said anyone is welcomed to protest outside Armstrong on the sidewalk along Spring Street, as long as they don’t block traffic on the sidewalk and maintain easy access for individuals entering and exiting the building.
Linden said the group chose Armstrong as the location for the protest because of its central location on campus.
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“We thought this would be a good place for both the student body and the wider community to see us because there’s a big street here that’s used a lot,” Linden said.
Smith, who also attended the Students Supporting Israel rally on Oct. 9, attended the event to support the students protesting and make sure the event was respectful.
“Anytime there’s something going on in the world that impacts our students, we’re going to do whatever we can to support,” Smith said.
In response to SJP’s protest, the Jewish community stood by watching. While they did not have issues with the protest advocating for a free Palestine, some said the timing of the protest meant it indirectly condoned Hamas.
“It’s not anything against the Palestinians, it’s against Hamas,” Ben Kaufman, a senior history and economics major, said. “That’s the big thing that hurts us.”
The group reiterated that SJP was not the only ones affected by the international conflict. Regardless, they respected SJP’s right to protest.
“Everyone has a right to express their opinions,” Kaufman said. “Nobody should ever feel silenced. We live in a country where that’s allowed and people should exercise that right.”
Chabad’s Rabbi Yossi Greenberg accompanied the Jewish students and watched the protest. He said although it has been hard for the Jewish community since the conflict broke out, he appreciates the support they’ve received, including from MUPD and the Oxford Police Department.
With students representing both sides of the conflict, the Miami staff present at the protest reiterated their commitment to providing resources for students.
“Obviously there is a lot of tension on a lot of sides,” Vance said. “And if somebody is struggling, we can give them resources.”
In an email sent on Oct. 11, Miami President Greg Crawford encouraged students who were struggling during these times to seek help through Student Counseling Services, the 24/7 H.O.P.E. Line, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and the International Student and Scholar Services.