As Israel-Gaza War continues, President Whitfield responds to campus protests

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Students march in support of Palestine, Oct. 30. by Matthew Mondschein

UNLV students protested outside the Flora Dugan Humanities (FDH) building on Oct. 30 to express their support for Palestinians and call for a ceasefire as the conflict in Gaza raged into its fourth week.

The event was organized by the UNLV chapter of Nevadans for Palestinian Liberation (NPL), the organizers of the pro-Palestine protests in downtown Las Vegas , and a previous campus demonstration on Oct. 19.

The protesting students marched all across the campus while chanting “Free Palestine” and waving Palestinian flags.

“We’re here protesting to show solidarity with the people of Palestine, who are experiencing a vicious form of settler colonialism,” said a student organizer who wished for their name not to be published over privacy concerns. “We’re taking a stand against the genocide that is happening against the Palestinians.”

Over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes that began after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed 1,400 Israelis and took over 200 hostages. 

On both Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, the Israeli Defense Force launched airstrikes on the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, where the Gaza Health Ministry said more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed, injured or missing. The exact death toll has not been confirmed. 

The IDF said that it was targeting a Hamas militant.

The international community condemned the attack. UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, released a statement and called the attack “horrific and appalling.” The UN Human Rights office tweeted “we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”

The student march ended back where it began, at FDH, when students aimed their anger at the school administration.

In a letter that was sent to student emails on Oct. 11, UNLV President Whitfield condemned the Hamas attack on Israel, saying, “While I don’t pretend to understand all of the nuances and variables involved in this longstanding conflict, we must and do condemn acts of terrorism.” 

Whitfield added that his “heart goes out to all members of our UNLV family” that were affected and that the university community “must remain respectful, kind, and considerate of each other.”

The protesting students took issue with the statement. “You don’t get to choose sides then claim ignorance,” a protester yelled from a microphone outside FDH, where the President’s office is located.

“He prides himself on having a diverse campus,” said the NLP student organizer. “We have a giant BLM [Black Lives Matter] poster on campus, but what he says means nothing if what he does is endorse another form of white supremacy colonization and ignore what is happening in Gaza. He didn’t mention Palestine once.”

“I remain concerned for all members of our UNLV family who are impacted by the ongoing war … and continue to be troubled by the growing loss of innocent lives,” President Whitfield said in a recent statement. “Our support services are available to any member of our university community who needs them. 

“Also, I am grateful to our students and the UNLV community for the civil and respectful way we have all conducted ourselves during this emotional time.”

A ceasefire has been called for by various protests internationally and domestically. In London, a protest drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. In the United States, Jewish Voices for Peace did a sit-in protest in Grand Central station, where thousands demonstrated peacefully, making it one of the largest sit-in protests in New York in decades.

Per a recent Data for Progress poll, 66% of American voters “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that the U.S. should “call for a ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza.”

President Biden maintained his position of support for Israel. “Our national security depends on both supporting Israel to combat terrorism, and alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza,” Biden said in a tweet.

Biden and multiple senators have called for a “pause” in the fighting, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) became the first senator to call for an unequivocal ceasefire on Nov. 2. In an interview with CNN’s anchor Poppy Harlow, where she asked whether it’s time for a ceasefire, Durbin responded with “I think it is … an effort should be made to engage in conversation between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would send $14.3 billion in aid to Israel and cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service. The bill is not expected to be passed in the Senate since it did not include additional funding for Ukraine that Biden had requested. 

As protests throughout the country call for a ceasefire, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues with no foreseeable end in sight.

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