Israel-Hamas War: Student groups under fire for supporting Palestine?

Be it in Harvard or Hyderabad, Arizona State University or Aligarh Muslim University, there has been a severe backlash against students and student organisations for supporting Palestine
Pic Credit: EdexLive
Pic Credit: EdexLive

Student groups in India have been standing in solidarity and support with Palestine ever since Hamas, the Palestinian militant group launched an attack on Israel, and the latter retaliated by declaring a “state of war” with Palestine.

These groups, mostly Left-backed, have been calling for peace in the region, and condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestine on social media platforms. A few organisations have even staged protests, demonstrations, and solidarity marches. 

Leaders from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) unit of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) visited Palestinian Ambassador Adnan Abu Al Haija on Wednesday,  October 11, and shared their solidarity statement with him. 

Jamia Millia Islamia unit of SFI organised a human chain formation for Palestine yesterday, October 12, in which 200 students participated. EdexLive reports that the participants took a pledge “to stand with Palestine in their pursuit of a just and peaceful future, free from occupation and imperialism, where all people can live in dignity, security, and harmony.”

The All India Students’ Association (AISA) expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause through an online statement while the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Study Circle at Delhi University (DU) organised a public lecture on the history of Palestine and Israel delivered by former DU Professor Achin Vanaik today, October 13.

Further, several groups including SFI, All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO) and others have made a joint call for gathering in solidarity with the Palestinian civilians at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on October 14.

In addition to Left-backed student organisations, ChintaBAR, an independent student collective from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras has also stated solidarity with Palestine. ChintaBAR took to social media to issue the statement and condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which it says “has resulted in one of the lengthiest and most devastating conflicts in human history”.

Protestors detained?

However, there have been instances where students have been targeted by authorities and detained for staging protests or even expressing solidarity with Palestine. 

Today, October 13, the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, a left-wing organisation inspired by Bhagat Singh’s group of the same name, staged a countrywide demonstration in Delhi, Patna, Pune, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and other cities in India. The protestors, mostly students, have been detained by the police in Hyderabad and Mumbai for allegedly not taking prior permission for the demonstration. 

On Sunday, October 8, students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) staged a solidarity march for Palestine. The protestors chanted pro-Palestine slogans, and called the bombings by Israel “atrocities inflicted on innocent natives to establish supremacy”, The Indian Express reported. 

AMU, on its part, stated that the protest was taken out without seeking permission from the university’s administration. Four students from this group were booked by the police after a few politicians objected to the videos of the protest, which went viral on social media. While no arrests have been made, the investigation is still ongoing.

In another instance, a 20-year-old youngster named Aslam Basha from Hospet, Karnataka was taken into custody by the police yesterday, October 12 after he shared a pro-Palestine video on his WhatsApp status. While the police did not arrest him, they made him delete the video and issued a warning to the villagers against posting similar videos, stated a report in The News Minute

Not rattled, say AMU students 

Despite police action, however, students of AMU have not lost their rigour and zeal to protest. 

Zaki ur Rehman, a student of AMU who participated in the protest, alleged that the four students had been directly targeted by the administration for other political reasons. 

“We have been demanding that the university conduct student union elections for a while now, and these four students were actively involved in those protests. As a result, the university had FIRs filed on them,” he claimed, in a conversation with EdexLive

When asked whether these FIRs are a cause for worry, Zaki says that it is not the case at all. “We are not marching in support of Hamas or any other organisation. We are not marching for or against any religion, nor are we trying to hurt people’s sentiments. We are marching for a free Palestine, and against Israel’s attacks,” he adds and says, “India has always officially supported the Palestinian cause and is still doing so.”

He further says that people who think that resistance to Israel is terrorism, but what Israel has historically been doing in Palestine isn't, must seriously re-evaluate how aware they are about the issue.

“Students have been at the forefront of protesting against injustices in India as well as the world – be it against the violence in Manipur or the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). We will take a stance against the injustices Palestine has been facing, too,” he further adds. 

Backlash not limited to Indian students 

On Saturday, October 7, 34 student organisations at Harvard University issued a statement online supporting Palestine and condemning Israel, calling the latter “entirely responsible” for the ongoing violence in the region. 

The statement further called for the Harvard administration to “take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”

Following its release, the statement received intense backlash in the United States of America. Several groups, which were initially a part of the original signatories, redacted their support, claiming that they were “not shown the statement before signing it”, and that they “assumed the statement to condemn the loss of civilian life of both Israel and Palestine”. Harvard University’s administration also distanced itself from the petition, claiming that it does not represent Harvard’s position on the matter. 

Amidst this cacophony of condemnations and whirls of withdrawn solidarity, however, students who are signatories of this statement found themselves at the receiving end of targeted harassment. Several students were doxxed – both online, where they were “outed” as “anti-Semites”, and offline, where LED trucks displaying the same messaging were seen on Harvard’s campus. 

CEOs of several companies also blacklisted these students, announcing that they would be denied employment opportunities after they graduate, as per news reports. 

Similarly, pro-Palestine protests at Arizona State University and the University of Washington were also met with pro-Israel counter-protestors, who accused them of “wanting to wipe out Israeli people” and “supporting terrorism”. 

In a video going viral on social media, a pro-Israel supporter broke down into tears at a pro-Palestine rally on the University of Washington campus saying, “These people want us dead, how can you allow this?”. The video received 20.5 million views on X (formerly Twitter). 

Closer home, in India, students have been facing similar backlash for expressing solidarity with Palestine. 

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