College Protests Against Israeli Military Policy In Gaza Fosters Much-Needed National Dialogue About Palestinians (2024)

I was living in Door County, the land of wonderful sunsets and perfect hiking trails, as college students protested in the 1980s against South African apartheid. While much in favor of cutting financial ties with the racist government and divesting funds, I readily admit to being more mindful of the news about those protests and their reasoning than feeling engaged with it. The feelings I have, however, about protests now underway on college campuses nationwide, as determined and highly motivated young people bring their voices to stopping the military overreach of Israeli forces in Gaza, resonates far more deeply. Due to social media that allows for reports and video from the rubble-strewn homes and streets, along with the scenes of Palestinian deaths and burials, it is impossible to not be engaged in this moment that faces us all. Rather than acting dismissively of the protesters or reacting angrily to their message, we should listen, as they have something very important to say.

I am struck by some of the comments to be found in news reports from those who think the tents and bullhorns urging a policy change are over the top. The ones making such claims are doing so from mostly an anti-Palestinian perspective. The fact is these protests are rather tame, lest we forget what occurred in the Vietnam War era, when in 1970, in one of the grand stories about the Richard Nixon presidency buses literally were placed around the White House. D.C. Transit used buses in a bumper-to-bumper formation to form a ring at the direction of the police. Nixon and the Secret Service feared that antiwar demonstrators may try to storm the White House. Over the years of reading about this period, it reminded me of how President Abraham Lincoln might have felt about Confederates coming over the Potomac River from Virginia in 1861 in an effort to take the White House..

While the protest outside the White House was obviously not on a college campus, and while many of the protests in the 1970s over the war had violent moments, it needs to be stated that the vast majority of campus protests underway this month are peaceful. That does not excuse the very slim number of people who attempt to hijack the protests for their own aims, nor do those at the margins detract from the overriding issue. The justified demands of the protests center on divestiture from firms that support this over-the-top and relentlessly eager war by Israel against the people of Gaza.

History shows that a strong power occupying another people results in continuous strife and war. The barbaric and soulless murder and rampaging by Hamsa that occurred on October 7th in Israel absolutely required a military reaction. What we too often fail to talk about, however, or understand, is what Hamas did was not committed in a vacuum. The people of Gaza would have never entertained allowing that group to have a foothold if not for decades of built-up anger over Israeli policies. Choices were made on all sides. When Hamas attacked, they had two goals. One was creating terror from the slaughtering, but the second was provoking Israel to overreact. Knowing the far-right wing in the Israeli coalition government would have to be assuaged for Prime Minister Netanyahu to remain in power and not face his ongoing criminal charges unrelated to this war, Hamas wished to foment a calamity of the kind playing out now in Gaza. Israeli policymakers chose a scorched earth policy, caring no more for the Palestinians locked into that sliver of ground any more than Hamas does. So far, over 54,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza from this war.

Large swaths of the American public cared no more about Palestinian rights or statehood than the governments of Arab nations who were found mouthing sentiments about this group over the decades. But all of a sudden, a dam has broken wide allowing young, energized, and vocal college and university students a platform to say what needs to be stated loudly and clearly. If Israel thought they only had a military war to contend with, one in part of their own making after decades of occupation and hostilities, they surely now know the larger problem they face is worldwide condemnation and revulsion over what they are doing in Gaza. The PR war will likely create far more hurdles for Israel than their land war.

I first studied this region as a freshman in high school, where Mrs. Marge Glad (who left Holland with her family as WWII bore down on Europe) used a full semester to teach Middle Eastern history. She was an exceptional instructor, one I have always stated to be the most consequential in my life. She hooked me on the region, but sadly, decades later, there are far more scars on the landscape and its people, than peace resolutions and reasons for hope. That is one reason I am with the protesters in spirit as the Palestinian people are too often marginalized and forgotten. The sobering truth now of what happens when conditions are not improved for dislocated people cannot be easily dismissed. I applaud and deeply approve of the protests on campuses nationwide.

College Protests Against Israeli Military Policy In Gaza Fosters Much-Needed National Dialogue About Palestinians (2024)
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