Universities Rise Up Against War

American students are protesting for social justice, risking their life and future for the Palestinians, as waves of demonstrations have traversed oceans to France, England and Australia in solidarity with Palestine

Universities Rise Up Against War

A new wave of political consciousness is stirring across the globe in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians against the war in Gaza. Students from some of the best universities in America (and perhaps the world), including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, New York University (NYU), and the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), joined by more than 40 public and private universities, are chanting and clamouring in protest, pressing their demands in a massive exhibition of campus activism to stop the US government's financing and arming of the sinister war. The momentum swells every passing day, and the wave of demonstrations has travelled to major centres of learning in France, England and Australia, where students show solidarity in protest against a Zionist regime busy perpetrating human rights violations of catastrophic proportions and a brutal genocide on Palestinians.

These students are protesting for social justice by risking their lives and education for Palestinians. They are pitching camps, launching rallies, organising sit-ins and hunger strikes, making powerful speeches, in the face of police crackdowns, wide-scale arrests, and threats of suspension — and even expulsion — by their college administrations. Their protests carry on at the perilous cost of their academic careers, for which they have paid exorbitantly and aspired endlessly.

It is reported that such widespread student demonstrations are unprecedented in the recent history of America. College administrators, law enforcement and politicians are grappling with responses to rein in a nationwide revolt of students overly critical of Israel's war on Gaza in an era dominated by social media and non-stop news. The students are highly charged and undeterred: every threat emboldens them, and every arrest steels their resolve to gather in greater numbers and to be active, insistent and resolute in their demand.

The students have one voice, one cause, and one demand from the universities: divest from Israel, which is complicit in genocide, and force a ceasefire in Gaza. They want all kinds of commercial divestment of educational, research and military funding from Israel and severance of such ties by their colleges.

Why is it a sign of alarm for the American administration when these are peaceful student protests? Aren't these students acting on the lessons and the education they have received on American campuses over the years, including freedom of speech, freedom of thought, critical engagement with issues, advocating human rights, liberal values, and democratic order? If they raise a voice to stop war, they aim to show a mirror to the American government over its misdeeds and hypocritical values.

The crackdown on students, in which over 500 have reportedly been arrested, is unjustified, firstly as an assault on freedom of expression, which is a basic human right under the UN charter as well as the US Constitution. These were peaceful protests, and police arrests have sparked violence on the campus. Second, it is an erosion of America's soft power, which used to be visible through its educational institutions promoting critical thinking and attracting students from all over the world. By stifling democratic values of political activism, free speech, and a culture of tolerance, the soft power of America will eclipse, which it will no longer be able to proudly protect and propagate.

The demonstrating students have denounced the disproportionate hard power of the American government, which is being used to further oppress the Palestinians. They know that America is the only country that can stop the war in Gaza by ceasing military aid and cutting its financial links to Israel. They know that America has abandoned the victims of Gaza and abetted the aggressors, leading to widespread death and destruction. They know how much military aid is being consistently provided to facilitate the genocide in Gaza. They know their government's strategic relationship with Israel and other allies is fuelling the war. They gather and protest to remind the government that it is not fulfilling its moral responsibility as the leading global power for restoring world order in the face of anarchy and injustice.

It is most likely that the students' demands may not be met, and students will be directed to disperse or face expulsion from colleges. However, the lesson that will go down in history is that a formidable student movement, in support of Gaza, was unprecedented and showed no sign of slowing down. It spread like wildfire from coast to coast despite crackdowns and threats.

It is heartening to see how the international community has rallied against injustice, expressing their solidarity and striving to bring change in their own language and voice. As many as 33 Democrats in Congress have affixed their signatures to a letter advocating for re-evaluation of arms transactions with Israel, while some have tendered resignations from the US State Department in protest. Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, joined others in unequivocally denouncing the transfer of weapons by the US as an "unjustifiable" transgression. Lawyers and the public have risen in protest in England. Turkey has banned exports in 54 sectors in a major blow to Israel, and if more such export restrictions follow by other trading partners, the pain will be impactful. South Africa has already dragged Israel to the International Court of Justice, where it is accused of committing genocide.

The world community is raising its voice for Palestinians loud and clear, whereas we are mostly mute in response. This is a good time for soul-searching and initiating some degree of intellectual activism and debate in our own educational institutions at home to show solidarity with Gaza as effectively as the West has.

The writer has an LLM in International Economic Law