Frequent refrains of “from the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free” echoed in front of Old Main on Thursday, Nov. 9 as hundreds of University of Arizona students, activists, and Tucson community members marched on the mall in solidarity with Palestine.
In notices distributed on social media and around campus, activist groups including the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance and the Party for Socialism and Liberation encouraged students to walk out of class at 2:30 p.m. as part of the nationwide “Shut It Down For Palestine” movement. Many more protests were held around the country.
“We want to just be here to show the school, the president, that his comments don’t represent the majority of people here. The majority of people here are against apartheid and want to see Palestine liberated,” said Tanya, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Protestors said the University is complicit in what they say is a genocide of the Palestinian people due to its investments and student programs with the military defense contractor Raytheon, now known as RTX, and its partnerships with Israel.
“Raytheon is a major employer in the Tucson area, and likewise, a provider of numerous internships to our student body, but at what cost?” Tanya said. “The more Raytheon air to surface missiles launched on Gaza targets, the more profits Raytheon investors enjoy."
Organizers urged attendees to sign an open letter to university administration, demanding more transparency in its dealings with the defense company.
As the war passes its one-month mark, the latest UA protest is one of many demonstrations taking place on both sides. The previous day, other students expressed their support for the 240 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas by setting up empty chairs. On Nov. 2, The Tucson Coalition for Palestine blocked the entrance to Raytheon, now known as RTX, during the morning rush to protest its sales of weapons to Israel.
Alvaro, a UA student who spoke on first-name basis only, criticized the University’s president, Dr. Robert Robbins’ messaging regarding the campus protests.
“The way that President Robbins takes the time to send out a massive email regarding this issue is not representative of the student body at all,” he said.
In an email sent to the UA community by President Robbins shortly after the conflict began on Oct. 11, Robbins said the organizing group Students for Justice in Palestine did not represent the University’s values for “statements endorsing the actions of Hamas in Israel,” but that students could use their first amendment rights peacefully.
The SJP canceled a protest scheduled for the day following the Robbins’ email, saying they no longer felt safe demonstrating.
Other speakers expressed similar feelings of isolation.
“Who has the luxury of processing the trauma of what is happening, while facing constant threats of annihilation? And who has time for grief when it feels like the world is closing in around all efforts for solidarity all over the world, including and especially on this campus?” said Marlowe, a community organizer with the United Campus Workers.
All the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, Natalie Abusalameh and her husband have been traveling to protests across the country in their RV. She said she showed up to Tucson’s protest to support her husband, who is Palestinian, and their family in Palestine.
“I see how my family in Palestine is being treated. We have beautiful nieces and nephews that live in the West Bank, and I want them to have the same rights and freedoms and self-determination that I have. We want to see Palestine free from occupation, we want to see Israel back off,” she said.
Abusalameh said they were finding protests in California next “to support the movement any way they can.”
She also said she wants to see more representation for the Palestinian cause in the mainstream media.
“I think most Americans would say that if somebody tried to come into their home and kick their family out of it, they’d fight back. The major media outlets aren’t spinning it that way. You know, that’s how they spin it for Ukraine, but they don’t spin it that way for Palestine. So I think people need to understand that if you support Ukraine and you support Israel, you’re a hypocrite,” Abusalameh said.