“Free, free, Palestine!” resounded throughout campus on Nov. 10 as SUNY New Paltz students gathered in support of Palestine. The rally was organized by the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Organizers shared information about the atrocities going on in Palestine as well as a petition demanding a ceasefire from Congressman Pat Ryan.
“I am Palestinian-American, but I am a human being before anything else,” said fourth-year computer science major and MSA member Abdullah Ali. “People say that this is a controversial and a complicated topic, but also say that this is a religious war or a land war. It is neither of those things. It is a humanitarian crisis.”
The event was preceded by Friday prayers, also hosted by the MSA. At the rally, several students wore a black-and-white keffiyeh, a headscarf that has become a sign of solidarity for Palestinians. Many also flew Palestinian flags or held signs decorated in red, green and black with sayings of solidarity. Organizers tearfully mourned the men, women and children killed in the genocide and condemned the occupation. They celebrated activism and encouraged education, demonstration, sharing on social media and more to support Palestine.
First-year biology major Nawrah Zamir, event coordinator of the MSA, began the rally with a Muslim prayer in Arabic and English. Zamir later gave a speech and read excerpts from a diary by Nadine Abdullatif. Abdullatif is a 13-year old girl living in Gaza, recounting her daily experiences under the occupation. The excerpts provoked tears from Zamir and others in the audience.
“It is an obligation on us to stand against injustice,” said Zamir. “Remember this. Remember your purpose. Remember that there are thousands of children just like Nadine, and remember that there are thousands of children just like her brother and remember that every single one of those children meant everything to somebody.”
Two students from New Paltz Students for Palestine (NPSFP) also recited poems they wrote about Palestine during the rally.
“I have never been one to pray,” said Lukas Cortés, English, women’s, gender and sexuality studies and Latin American and Caribbean Latinx studies major. “But now I find myself mumbling the words over, and over, and over again, because it is the only place I find comfort in.”
Rabia Chaudhry, MSA treasurer, was one of the final speakers. “This cause is not just a distant issue,” said Chaudhry. “It’s a lived reality for countless individuals who wake up everyday, fighting for their existence.”
The rally comes in light of the attacks on Gaza by the Israeli military following the Oct.7 Hamas strikes. Since Oct. 7, over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in the bombardment, thousands of them being children. Thousands of people worldwide have held rallies in support of Palestine since.
The crowd grew bigger as the march began. Students walked from Parker Quad through the academic concourse and back, shouting chants like “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go!” and “Justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land!” The demonstration was peaceful and unobstructed. The University Police Department had a small presence at the rally, staying to the side.
Those who attended the protest felt both the grief of the moment and the invigoration of the rally. “Israel is taking this war, taking this genocide way too far, for ethnic cleansing, money and power. It’s just ridiculous and they need to ceasefire” said Linsey Itak, second-year English adolescent education major. “It’s not right. It’s like a blast to the past of all the other genocides we’ve had.”
Protestors all had their own personal reasons for coming to the event, but they were united in their condemnation of the occupation and their desire to show support.
“I’m fighting for something that’s right, I’m fighting for something that I believe in. Genocide is wrong,” said second-year communications major Giovanna Ruiz-Cameros. “Something similar has happened to many Latin countries where they got colonized and a lot of things have changed because of colonization, and this is sort of what’s happening here too. I don’t support that at all.”
The rally for Palestine was the second on-campus show of support for Palestine, the first being the vigil for Palestinians organized by NPSFP which took place on Oct. 25. MSA also helped put that event together.
“Our main goal for the rally for Palestine was to bring attention to the genocide of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government,” said Zamir on behalf of MSA. “We handed out info cards surrounding these events, and we hope students will stand up for humanity and justice by doing their part.”
The turnout made it clear that students want to be able to show their support for Palestine in tangible ways. Zamir said that students can educate themselves, raise awareness on social media, protest, donate to organizations providing humanitarian aid and hold discussions that create understanding and empathy.
“Every small action can make a difference,” said Zamir. “Check in on each other, because we’re all in this together.”
The MSA is dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming space for Muslim students looking to meet, exchange ideas and share in their faith. MSA hosts Friday prayers each week and hosts gatherings and events to deepen unity within the Muslim community on campus.
“Find a support group,” Zamir said, regarding how students can keep up hope in such a tumultuous time. “Surround yourself with people who share your grief. The MSA always welcomes you. Remember that justice will be served.”