George Mason students protest Israel-Hamas war.
BY STAFF WRITERS BARRETT ROSE BALZER, LEILA KAMARIA CAMPBELL, AMELIA JANE SAND AND ANGEL BISA SIMS.
Editor’s Note: Fourth Estate uses language in accordance with AP style guidelines. For more information on the use of the “Israel-Hamas war”, please visit the AP Stylebook.
“Free, free Palestine! From the rivers to the sea: Palestine will be free.”
That was the call on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 12:30 p.m. during a protest held on Wilkins Plaza by Students For Justice In Palestine, also known as SJP. Prior to the protest, the group posted to Instagram that the purpose of their protest was “…to demand that our universities cut ties with military contracting companies that are responsible for the loss of life, destruction of homes, and the displacement of thousands of families in Palestine.”
Protestors filled Wilkins Plaza at the center of campus between the Johnson Center and Horizon Hall. Many of the students covered their faces with scarves so they could not be identified. Students wrapped in Palestinian flags stood together around the SJP protest organizers as the chanting continued. Hand-written signs in red, black, and green echoed their chants. Beneath their feet, messages scrawled in colorful chalk spelled out their thoughts: “Free Palestine.” “No Justice, No Peace.”
For some students, they shared that the war is personal. “I have 46 family members who have died from the Israeli bombs,” one Mason protestor said. “My family is crying every single day.”
The pro-Palestinian protestors shouted “Viva! Viva Palestine!”
Prior to the protest, Mason administrators put protective measures as mentioned in a university-wide email from the Office Of The President on Nov. 2. The measures, such as a higher police presence on campus, were put in place to ensure students are safe while practicing their right to free speech. Campus police were on standby at the start of the protest, with three officers and a K-9 police dog nearby.
Dr. Creston Lynch, Assistant Vice President of University Life, was also at the protest. “I am here to ensure our students’ rights to express themselves in the form of their First Amendment right,” Lynch said.
Thursday’s protest at Mason follows a recent pro-Palestinian protest in a congressional office building in which more than 20 college students, some from Mason, attended to demand free speech protections when protesting on college campuses. According to the Washington Post, it was reported that 10 protesters were arrested following their interruption of the congressional hearing.
“I do feel safe,” one Mason student said on Thursday’s protest. “I have a lot of Arab friends, a huge Arab community that supports each other here.” The student added, “I feel like the Arab community here is very large. They have a voice here at Mason.”
Within minutes of the protest beginning, the pro-Palestinian protestors were joined by pro-Israeli counter-protestors, most of whom were not Mason students. Carrying large Israeli flags and signs with slogans that said, “We stand with Israel,” they made their way to the center of campus.
The police presence increased from three officers to eight as the pro-Israeli protestors approached the plaza. An SJP protest organizer, wearing an orange vest, instructed Mason protestors to: “Turn your backs towards them [pro-Israeli protestors], do not look at them, don’t pay them any mind. Do not give them any attention.”
The pro-Israeli protestors shared remarks with pro-Palestinian protestors. “Show us your ugly faces…You support murders…You are against America,” they said. “You’re a coward! Coward’s cover faces just like Hamas.”
The pro-Palestinian protestors responded, “You killed tens of thousands of people, and you’re calling me a coward!”
Observing the interactions between protestors and police presence, Dr. Lynch noted how delicate he believed the situation was.
“I see them [the police] being very careful to make sure that everybody’s rights are upheld and protected…as this is a public space and…freedom of expression is…something that is not only important to the…academic enterprise but also [to] democracy. I think they’re being careful…not to encroach upon anybody’s rights to freedom of expression, while keeping them safe.”
Palestinian students in the protest shared that the Israel-Hamas war affected them personally. One Palestinian-American student said, “This issue did not just come up on Oct. 7. People just keep asking us to condemn, condemn, condemn. I won’t condemn it because I feel that no group forms just because they want to or because they want to terrorize people,” they said.
“Every single group like those forms because of unfulfilled needs. They form because the system is against them. They form because they are not getting proper treatment…Does it sound like two states who are equally governed and have equal power?” the student asked.
“I stand with Palestine. Free Palestine. I’m Palestinian. I’ve never been to Palestine.” The Palestinian protestor said.
“These people don’t see us as people,” one SJP protest organizer said.
“They called me a terrorist,” one student said as they stepped away from the protest.
Throughout the protest, the pro-Israeli protestors were heard chanting: “Sheep, sheep, you’ll be the first to be slaughtered!”
When asked to comment on the protest, pro-Israeli protestors declined.
Following the protest, SJP released a statement in a post reflecting on their interactions with the pro-Israeli protesters. According to another post, SJP will be holding their next protest on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.