Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion

Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion
Supporting WHRDs & progressive feminist movements in MENA & Asia.

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US Universities Must Respect the Rights of Students to Free Expression and Assembly

Femena expresses its solidarity with the protest movement in support of peace and the rights of Palestinians taking place at over 40 university campuses across the United States. The protests began at Columbia University and have grown into a larger movement across the country, consisting of encampments and occupied buildings. Some universities in Europe have followed suit. Protesters are demanding a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, an end to US military aid to Israel, and university divestment from suppliers and companies implicated in the armament of Israel. The protests are made up of students and faculty members of diverse backgrounds, including Jewish and Muslim faiths, amongst others. 

In response, university leaderships are applying an alarmingly heavy-handed approach to suppress student and faculty rights to freedom of expression. University administrations have called on law enforcement and even the national guard to crack down on the protests and police forces have carried an alarming number of arrests at campuses. Many protesters have been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Universities have also been suspending students engaged in the protests. 

At the same time, university officials as well as elected government officials, have engaged in a  concerted effort to discredit the movement and its demands by promoting a false narrative and falsely accusing the protesters of engaging in violence and promoting antisemitism. This is despite the fact that many of the students protesting and being arrested are Jewish and actively involved in Jewish student groups. Among the main organizing groups are Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, who have consistently spoken up for peace, a permanent ceasefire, and for a just solution for Palestinians. To this end, Femena commends the protests’ leadership on their condemnation of violence against pro-Israel counter-protestors and disavowments of antisemitic incitements and urges them to keep in mind a vision of a future in Palestine based on equity, freedom, and dignity for all. 

The severe backlash against students and faculty members protesting the international crimes taking place in Gaza is happening at a time when more than 34,000 Palestinians –mostly women and children, have been killed by Israel. University students are quick to point out that all universities in Gaza have been destroyed by Israel, which has also obliterated large swathes of the besieged enclave, having targeted residential areas, hospitals, schools, and other vital human infrastructure –rendering much of the strip uninhabitable. The population of Gaza is at risk of famine, with its 2.2 million population experiencing food insecurity at crisis levels and above. The US is by far Israel’s biggest arms supplier —accounting for 69% of Israel’s imports of major conventional arms in the years 2019-2023. The US annually provides Israel with $3.8bn in military aid –helping consolidate one of the world’s most technologically sophisticated militaries. It is important to note the critical role that American universities play in researching and advancing military technology that is supplied to Israel. 

Direct action and civil disobedience are not to be underestimated given their integral role in pressuring governments and changing the status quo. Many student-led protests have historically been catalysts for political and social change in the United States and beyond. We affirm the protesters right to demonstration and freedom of speech and commend their courage and willingness to sacrifice personal goals in the pursuit of justice and collective achievement. We are alarmed by university leadership’s decisions to summon police forces and suppress political action that aims to put an end to the devastation that has been inflicted upon Palestinians. We call on universities to revisit their mandates on education and the necessity for dialogue and freedom of expression as pathways for learning and growth. Instead of suppressing protests, we urge them to assess the crimes taking place in Gaza, and specifically the scholasticide that has been committed, where not a single university in Gaza remains standing as a result of Israel’s continued military assaults. 

Femena reiterates its solidarity with the university protests in the US and globally and calls on broader institutions in society –social, economic, and cultural –to join forces and help cultivate an effective movement that can bring about tangible transformation in Palestine.  We also demand the United States and other governments backing Israel to respond to the growing calls for a ceasefire, an end to the siege on Gaza and occupation of Palestine by Israel, and a serious commitment to a durable and just political solution for Palestinians.