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Students peacefully make their voices heard on campus

Pro-Palestinian protestors overwhelm dual student demonstration turnout at Buffalo State as Israel’s heightened occupation enters its eighth month
Sol Verma
Pro-Palestine students and affinity groups stand in solidarity.

Buffalo State students supporting both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict convened in the quad between the library and the student union to demonstrate on May Day 2024.

Both groups advertised their respective demonstration as one, calling for peace in the region. The turnout for the event leaned heavily towards the Palestinian cause, as there were approximately 50 protestors on their designated side alone at its peak, as compared to roughly 5 counter-protestors.

These protests come at a crucial time for the region, as Israel has continued its encroachment into Gaza, and the kettling of its citizens into Rafah, a previously declared “safe zone”, where it has since become another target of bombing funded by United States tax dollars.

Scarlett Hanley, the organizer of the Palestinian protest, began with the definition of genocide as told by the article I of the 1948 Geneva Convention.

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“Genocide is defined as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” Hanley said. “As such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life unsustainable to live.”

Hanley then pivoted to the economic history of Israel.

“Since 1946, Israel has been provided 300 billion dollars for the funding of their military and economic budget,” Hanley said, to calls of shame from the crowd. “The funding from the US has made this genocide possible.”

Hanley traded control of the bullhorn with another organizer, Alice Yaser, throughout the demonstration. Yaser, a member of affinity groups SUNY BDS and Worker’s World Party, shared many impassioned speeches regarding the conflict as well as the intersections of other human rights issues that are currently being presented in the United States.

“Fighting the IOF also means fighting the police in the United States”, Yaser said, before leading the crowd in a series of chants.

Hanley also shared a number of poems, written by Palestinians who are either currently in the occupied territory or have fled for safety. Among the poems was one titled “During a genocide”.

A member of Liberation for One, Liberation for All (LOLA) 716 spoke to the Palestinian crowd, urging them to sign a petition for Buffalo Common Council to divest from Israel and join other American cities in calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

“Just yesterday, [the resolution] was accepted for review by the Buffalo Common Council,” they said.

They then urged the protesters to find their Instagram, and to attend the Common Council meeting occurring Tuesday May 7 at 2 p.m.

The energy Hanley and Yaser gave during the demonstrations moved the protestors, who reciprocated tenfold in their response. Chants like “Biden Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” echoed through the quad. This chant in particular is in reference to the United States’ continual funneling of aid and weaponry to Israel, as well as his milquetoast response in stopping the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

While the Palestinian protest was gaining momentum, the Israeli protest seemed miniscule in comparison. For the majority of their demonstration, they either stood silently holding posters, flyers, and the Israeli flag, or engaged with Buffalo State students observing the demonstration in the middle of the quad. At some points, they shouted that the Palestinian side “only cared about this war” in a bid to try to highlight hypocrisy on the opposing side.

Pro-Israel student organizer Kathleen Morath seen engaging with Pro-Palestinian students. (Sol Verma)

At the height of the demonstration, one of Yaser’s speeches was interrupted by an impassioned supporter of Palestine, who had been engaging with the Pro-Israel side. The protestor expressed frustration that the counter-protestors couldn’t provide proof of their claims that Hamas beheaded 30-50 infants, a common misconception that has been in circulation and espoused by supporters of Israel since October.

After more trade-offs, Hanley and Yaser opened up the floor for community input. One speaker, an immigrant from Palestine, recounted the pain that their family went through to come to the United States, only for their tuition to help fund the very people that persecuted them.

“Now my tax dollars–MINE! Tuition money, it’s going to kill my family overseas. My brothers, my sisters, my grandparents,” said the speaker. “Get angry and show up.”

Another speaker, a Jewish American, cited the hypocrisy of the Right of Return.

“I am allowed as an American citizen to go to Israel, claim citizenship there, and have a home and rights and voting power. Palestinians do not have that right. Palestinians born in Palestine do not have that right.”

The protests peacefully dispersed around 2 p.m., to which Buffalo State President Bonita Durand congratulated the protestors on both sides via email.

“This [action] is not only a reflection of their maturity and character strength,” Durand writes, “but also a demonstration of their commitment to Buffalo State University’s core principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

However, at around 6:30 p.m., workers were seen at the quad with water and a broom scrubbing the chalk writing left by demonstrators, as per one of the Vice President’s requests. When approached to ask the reasoning, one of the workers replied with hostility that it was graffiti, and that it needed to be removed. The Record notes that other demonstrations and events that utilized chalk as a form of expression were not treated in this way. The worker, when getting into a Buffalo State van, also shouted an incoherent statement of ill intent regarding Muslim people.

The work order, provided by the staff member. (Devin Hogan)
Messages washed away. (Sol Verma)

Despite an overwhelming majority of Palestinian support on campus, there still stands a cognitive dissonance between the students and the administration. This is reflected beyond Buffalo State, as other colleges and universities along with the sentiment of the general public are in contrast with the academic and political leadership.

For more information on how to get civically involved in Buffalo, the following links are a good place to start:
LOLA 716
Workers World Party Buffalo

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About the Contributors
Devin Hogan
Devin Hogan, Staff writer
Devin Hogan is a Sociology student and a general fan of prose (and cons). When not trying to live her best Rory Gilmore life, you can find her making music, taking notes, or crying.
Sol Verma
Sol Verma, Staff Writer
Sol is a Media Production major, music lover and poetry-writer (when the time is right)!

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