May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Day 9: UO vigil marks scholasticide in Gaza

11 min read
UN experts expressed grave concern over the pattern of attacks on schools, universities, teachers, and students in Gaza, raising serious alarm over the systemic destruction of the Palestinian education system.

Todd Boyle of KEPW News reports on a vigil for the 6,000 university students, teachers, and professors killed during the destruction of every university in Gaza. Introducing the program May 7 at the University of Oregon pro-Palestine encampment:

Kaleigh Bronson: My name is Kaleigh. I am a faculty member here at the University of Oregon. I am a community organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation… I work in the College of Education in a child abuse prevention research center. And I don’t think there’s any better way for me to fight for safety for all children than to be here with all of you…

[00:00:37] Oh, and I see more students joining us. Welcome. I’m so happy you’re here. We have put together this program to bring awareness to something that we don’t feel our university or many, any universities in the United States have brought awareness to, and that is the victims of what is called scholasticide in Gaza.

[00:00:58] Up here we have, let’s see, six posters with the names of university presidents, deans, and professors at universities in Gaza, who are no longer with us due to Israeli occupation and genocide. Many of them were targeted assassinations. Some of them died defending their universities from bombing.

[00:01:24] As you can see, we have 11 candles up here and each of these candles has the name of a university in Gaza that no longer exists, or has been damaged or destroyed. So we’re here today to bring awareness to this because we feel that it is our obligation as faculty and staff at a higher education institution to bring awareness to this issue on our campus, and to make the connections between higher education and the fight for Palestinian liberation.

[00:01:54] Chris Case: Hi everyone. My name is Chris, I work at Pathway Oregon, I’m an SEIU 503 steward, and I’d like to thank you all for showing up today. I’d like to thank you all for standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people who, as we have seen this morning, are being given no place to go by the cowardly and cruel Zionist entity. We also raise our voices in condemnation of the administrators of this campus’s refusal to even condemn the actions of the U.S. and their lackeys in the region, never mind their refusal to engage in good faith with student organizers. Shame.

[00:02:32] This is all occurring in the midst of what the United States Human Rights Council has termed an act of scholasticide, or the systemic destruction of an entire people’s educational system.

[00:02:44] Eighty percent of schools have been destroyed in Gaza as of the end of last month. The last university was leveled in January. Over 5,000 students, more than 200 teachers, and nearly 100 university professors alone have been killed since the conflict began. In addition, 195 cultural heritage sites have been destroyed with bombs that say ‘made in the USA’ on the side of them. Shame.

[00:03:17] And finally, the destruction of the Central Archives of Gaza, which contained 150 years of those people’s history, was wiped out by Zionist bombs at the behest of the United States government. (Shame.)

[00:03:33] I ask that in light of this, we mark this moment with a moment of silence to remember those who have been killed in Zionist push to control the Middle East and that we remember those who are no longer able to raise their voices with us today. (Silence)

[00:04:09] And now I say to you all today, the time for silence is over. The time for shouting, singing, and liberation has begun. Long live the students, long live the fighters, and long live Palestine.

[00:04:22] (Cease-fire Choir sings a song from Abigail Bengson of The Bengsons.)

[00:05:02] Justin Filip: Hey everybody. My name is Justin. I’m an employee here, an alumni of the University of Oregon, member of your community. This is a letter from Palestinian universities to students and faculty in Gaza solidarity encampments in U.S. academic institutions.

[00:05:19] ‘In a moment of great darkness, your protests erupt and give us hope for humanity, that justice is not an abstract concept, but a continuous struggle that connects us all. Your values are emancipating the university from structural racism and complicity with power and colonialism.

[00:05:42] ‘The situation in Palestine has reached increased genocidal levels marked by the mass targeting of Palestinian life by killing and displacement, the destroying of social, cultural and all educational institutions, and the aim to reduce Palestinians to bare life with no political and collective future.

[00:06:05] ‘You are leaders in the call for justice with your bodies on the university campuses and in the streets speaking truth and justice loud and clear. You stand for the courage that is needed to take action strongly for justice and freedom and determinedly against systems of genocide and racism.

[00:06:28] ‘We know the risks you are taking in face of the repressive measures that are taken against university spaces built on challenging the powers benefiting from silence. At a time when the voices of the oppressed are intentionally silenced, your solidarity serves as a beacon of hope. Your actions are a resounding message that injustice and oppression will not be tolerated.

[00:06:56] ‘We draw inspiration from the courage of those who refuse and resist the continuing injustices of settler colonialism and military occupation, and we welcome you at our universities in a liberated Palestine.’

[00:07:24] Dr. Andrea Herrera: Hi everyone. Thank you for being here. My name is Dr. Herrera., I could not be prouder of all of you. Including many of my students, that I see in front of me. Okay, so I’m going to be reading a joint statement on antisemitism. Three groups collaborated on this statement: the UO Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, UO Jewish Voice for Peace, and Jewish Voice for Peace Eugene.

[00:07:50] During the week of April 29, 2024, in response to the University of Oregon’s financial complicity with Israel’s ongoing war in Palestine, which has destroyed 80 percent of schools and all universities in Gaza, a broad coalition of student organizers set up a solidarity encampment known as the Popular University for Gaza on the UO lawn.

[00:08:13] Faculty and staff mobilized to support students’ right to protest and call for UO’s divestment from Jasper Ridge Hedge Fund (which has financial ties to defense contractors linked to the Israeli occupation); UO’s implementation of a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign, which has appeared in ASUO proceedings as far back as 2018; and the cessation of academic exchanges with Israeli universities.

[00:08:41] The groups most closely involved with the encampment include students from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. At the University of Oregon, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, and those with other spiritual, religious, and/or secular beliefs have found solidarity in their / our opposition to colonialism, genocide, and war crimes.

[00:09:04] These students are astute scholars of academic texts as well as educated consumers of media. And they know that many in the broader community may seek to distort their message by weaponizing accusations of antisemitism against the encampment. For this reason, Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine at UO and Jewish Voice for Peace at UO have come together to state unequivocally the following:

[00:09:32] 1. We acknowledge that antisemitism has been an animating force throughout the history of the United States. Hostility, discrimination, prejudice, and violence toward Jews or people perceived as Jews, i.e. the figure of the Jew, has animated more than a thousand years of European Christian culture and is entangled with anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and nativism to this day.

[00:09:57] 2. We reject any potential criticism that the goals of the solidarity encampment are inherently antisemitic. The weaponization of antisemitism is a political tool to preemptively delegitimize political voices and the diversity of Jews. Jewish students, faculty, and staff are already a driving force in and welcomed and encouraged to become a part of our cross-religious, cross-cultural movement for solidarity with all victims of colonialism, war, racism and bigotry, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Solidarity with the oppressed and colonized in working together for collective liberation has been a core feature of traditions of Jewish political struggles, among them, the Jewish Labor Bund or the American Jewish labor movement, not despite, but because of Jewish experiences of marginalization, oppression, and genocide.

[00:10:57] 3. We adopt Jewish Voice for Peace’s definitions of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, which state in part: Antisemitism is discrimination, targeting violence, and dehumanizing stereotypes directed at Jews because they are Jewish. We understand antisemitism as historically contextual, situated amidst interrelated conditions and struggles.

[00:11:20] That’s why we fight antisemitism within and as part of broader struggles against oppression and for collective liberation. For instance, white nationalist violence has been on the rise in the U.S., fueled by anti-immigrant and racist manifestos, sentiments, and conspiracy theories, such as the Great Replacement Theory.

[00:11:41] Jews are among the targets of white nationalist violence along with Black people, immigrants, Muslims and trans and queer people, among others. Our safety is bound together with the safety of all people, and none of us is free if we aren’t all free. Attacking Jewish individuals or communal spaces for being Jewish or blaming the Jewish people for the actions of the Israeli government is antisemitic and unacceptable and flatly contrary to the values of our movement.

[00:12:10] Our movement for justice in Palestine stands firm as an anti-racist movement, which of course includes opposing all acts of antisemitism. In other words, anti-Zionism is not antisemitic and many Jews are anti-Zionists. Our opposition to all forms of antisemitism includes opposition to the targeting of Jewish-led solidarity encampments, for example, at UCLA.

[00:12:33] This conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is itself antisemitic and its erasure of the voices, stories, and experiences of Jewish individuals across the diaspora, some of whom have actively protested the Zionist project for over a century, and are continuing to protest the Israeli genocide and fight for Palestinian liberation in the current moment.

[00:12:54] 4. We reject the UO’s use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Numerous scholars, human rights experts, and Israeli international civil society groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the American Civil Liberties Union have warned that adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism protects Israel from legitimate criticism and prohibits protected speech.

[00:13:22] Using this definition, as the United States Senate is now dangerously considering, is harmful to U of O’s principles of dialogue, education, and academic freedom.

[00:13:33] The use of any definition that conflates Judaism with Zionism will have significant negative impact on the ability of UO students, faculty, and staff, including Jews, to have meaningful conversations about issues of racism, settler colonialism, genocide, and scholasticide.

[00:13:51] In the collective best interests of all U of O students, faculty and staff, we urge the University of Oregon to adopt a definition of antisemitism informed by the one above from Jewish Voice for Peace, which emphasizes the crucial distinction between Jewish individuals and the state of Israel, as opposed to any expanded definition which conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, such as the IHRA definition,

[00:14:13] We implore the administration to follow the lead of the Jerusalem Declaration in clarifying the definition of antisemitism and avoiding the simplistic conflation of Judaism with Zionism. Thank you.

[00:14:24] Dr. Geoffrey Gordon: Greetings, everyone. My name is Dr. Gordon, and I’m a clinical psychologist. You may have seen me speak at the first student rally months ago, or at several other actions since October. Early on, when our rallies were still small, it was important to me that people saw anti-Zionist Jews like me speaking out against colonization and genocide.

[00:14:45] Since then, with the hard work of comrades in this crowd, I’m proud to say that our movement has already achieved several victories at the local and state level, and I want to be sure that the students here know this.

[00:14:58] We convinced the Eugene City Council to pass a cease-fire resolution. Last year, we fought procedural interference and character assassination from Democratic Party operatives, and we successfully rewrote the local party platform to include anti-genocide, anti-apartheid, cease-fire and divestment policies, with overwhelming support from the rank and file. That’s right.

[00:15:25] What I’ve learned is that victory is possible, but there won’t be any easy wins. I’m telling you this because I wrote a draft divestment resolution for the city of Eugene and organized a campaign with a working group from the Springfield Eugene Anti-Imperialist Coalition. Yeah, give them a round of applause. They’ve been behind a lot of stuff here. Thanks to the efforts of that working group, we received endorsements from many community groups, including SJP. We presented the divestment resolution to City Council on April 8 with incredible testimonies during public comment. We had the choir show up. The city is now researching the possibility of updating their investment policy based on our recommendations. There are no guarantees, but it was the first step.

[00:16:12] So I believe that if you can succeed with the divestment efforts at the University of Oregon, that momentum will carry over into actual changes in city policy. The fight is about to get uglier, but the people of Eugene and the people of Gaza are counting on you to win.

[00:16:30] So remember this: It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer. In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.

[00:16:43] Jason Sydes: My name is Jason Sydes. I’m an instructor at the Knight Campus Graduate Internship program, in Bioinformatics.

[00:16:49] And tonight I’ll be reading a poem I’m sure most, if not all of you, have read at this point. I may have to pause in moments. The poem is If I Must Die by Refaat Alareer, who was a Palestinian writer, poet, activist, and professor. He taught literature and creative writing at the now-destroyed Islamic University of Gaza.

[00:17:20] He also co-founded the organization We Are Not Numbers, which provides English-language writing workshops for young Palestinian aspiring writers in Gaza, matching them with experienced authors. On Dec. 6, he and his brother, his sister, and four of his nephews were killed by the state of Israel.

[00:17:41] Deliberately targeted, their apartment surgically bombed out of the entire building where it was located, according to corroborated eyewitnesses and family accounts.

If I must die, by Refaat Alareer:

If I must die
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above,
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love.

If I must die
let it bring hope.
Let it be a tale.

[00:18:53] Kaleigh Bronson: Up here we have 11 candles that have the names of the 11 universities in Gaza that have been destroyed. We have six posters with the names of the presidents of Palestinian universities, deans, professors, who have been killed. And I am now going to ask that members of University of Oregon Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, as well as other faculty and staff here at the University of Oregon, please come up and grab some of the items that are here and join me in a walk down to Johnson Hall. The rest of you are welcome to come with us. I want to thank you all so much for coming. Please give a big round of applause to those who participated in our program.

[00:19:49] John Q: Todd Boyle reports on a vigil to remember those from the Gaza university communities, held Tuesday May 7, at the University of Oregon.

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