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Students and community members rally in support of Palestine, protest Israel’s actions in Gaza

and | Editors-in-chief

A child stands in front of the protest on Mudd Field, holding a sign in support. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

A group of over 100 Washington University students, professors, and St. Louis community members gathered on Mudd Field on Friday to protest Israel’s role in the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and show support for Palestine on Friday, Oct. 20. 

The protestors stood in front of the Danforth University Center for over an hour, waving Palestinian flags and holding red, black, and green signs: “You don’t need to be Muslim to stand up for Gaza. You just need to be human,” one read. The event was open-mic, meaning that any of the participants could spontaneously choose to speak. Protestors took the opportunity to address both fellow rally participants and a crowd of observers who gathered across the sidewalk. 

Ayah Hamdan, who graduated from the University in 2023, helped organize the protest. 

This is a genocide, and our voices deserve to be heard, and Palestinians are tired,” she said. 

Hamdan said her time at the University was marked by intolerance.

In my entire life, I’ve never felt more silenced about my identity and being Palestinian [than] in my four years at WashU. And so it’s nice to finally organize something — to have our voices heard on campus,” she said. 

One of the first speakers led the crowd in chants like, “Stop the killing, stop the crime, Israel out of Palestine,” and “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die!” Others, such as junior Afiya Fa’atuono, directly addressed the group of Jewish students on the other side of the walkway in front of the DUC.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t love you — just know that being on the wrong side of history hurts,” she said. Fa’atuono called out a few of her friends who were on the other side of the walkway by name. 

“I see people who I’ve had so many meals with. I see you,” Fa’atuono said. “And I know you’re going to come around. Peace be with you.” 

One of the students who Fa’atuono directly addressed, sophomore Kobe Deener-Agus, crossed over to Mudd Field to give Fa’atuono a hug, eliciting cheers from the protestors. Deener-Agus said he originally came to stand with the Jewish students in order to show support for Israel but was moved by his friend Fa’atuono’s callout. 

“She said Kobe — my name — and I was like, ‘Oh my God, she’s speaking to me.’ I just felt so moved, and I wanted to thank her for speaking and just acknowledge her and her humanity and that we are all just people, and we’re all suffering,” he said. 

Deener-Agus said that he wasn’t intending to make a political demonstration, that his views about the conflict haven’t changed, and that he is still mourning the deaths in Israel and believed the war is between Israel and Hamas, not Israel and Palestinians. 

“I don’t want to be tokenized,” he said. “I just went over and hugged my friend because she did a very brave thing and stood up in front of hundreds of people and spoke her truth, and I just wanted to acknowledge that.” 

Senior Harry Campbell said that they showed up at the rally to show support for Gaza and Palestine. As a Jewish person, they are hoping to inspire other Jewish people to do the same. 

“I’ve been trying to speak out on this because a lot of vulnerable communities, a lot of brown people — brown women, especially — are targeted. They’re targeted for being antisemitic for speaking out for the liberation of an oppressed group of people,” Feldman said. “And if Jewish history and Jewish faith teaches us anything, that’s something that we should be speaking out for as well.” 

A senior, who requested to be anonymous because of safety concerns, said that they were not Palestinian, but that they showed up to support Palestinian students on campus. 

“You just need to be human to feel pain for the people that are passing away in other countries,” he said. 

The senior was holding a megaphone and said they knew the pro-Palestine chants from previous rallies they had attended growing up. 

“I’ve been going to stuff since 2014…when the first war [that I could remember in my lifetime] happened in 2014. I was really small,” they said. “And it’s crazy — it’s been nine years, and it’s still going on.” 

The event was organized through Campus Life, and there were 10-12 Washington University Police Department (WUPD) officers stationed around Mudd field.

“We’re just here to ensure that there’s a safe space for everyone to voice their opinions on different matters,” Angela Coonce, Chief of WUPD, said. 

Dean of Students Rob Wild, who attended the event as a member of the Student Affairs team, said that the University will be rolling out opportunities for students to engage in dialogue in the coming weeks.

“We just know that some students aren’t ready for those spaces yet. And so we just want to give it a little time,” he said. “Our goal throughout this is just to make sure all of our students feel supported. And that’s been our priority.” 

The senior student who requested anonymity for their safety was one of many voices on Mudd Field during the protest. 

“I don’t think any of us are here to support killing of any sort — because we all condemn violence,” they said. The senior felt there was a strong, one-sided narrative about the recent conflict.

“Especially within this country, a lot of people are misinformed about what’s happening,” they said. “We’re trying to show that there are people on this WashU campus that do support the other side.” 

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