Updated 10/25 at 6:31 p.m. to add university comment.
Hundreds of students, faculty, local activists and allies gathered in solidarity with Palestinians at the Bell Tower Wednesday.
Wearing keffiyehs, a Palestinian emblem of resistance, perseverance and unity, and holding Palestinian flags and signs in support of a free Palestine, the group shouted chants like, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “Gaza, Gaza you will rise, Palestine will never die.”
Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine organized the collective walkout to protest the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza, encouraging all students and faculty to leave their classes for the demonstration at 11:30 a.m.
A member of SJP who wished not to be identified in this story for safety reasons addressed the crowd with a speech calling for the immediate ceasefire in Gaza, urging Temple President Richard Englert and other university officials to support its Palestinian students.
“We ask that the university stands in solidarity with us, demonstrating its commitment to the principles of justice, equality and inclusion,” the SJP member said.
In the last few weeks, the Israeli military has launched air and artillery strikes on Gaza, killing more than 6,500 Palestinians, in response to the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis and led to the taking of more than 220 hostages, The Associated Press reported.
Hamas is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States State Department, the European Union and other Western countries. Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said Hamas is not representative of all Palestinian people, but Israel’s response has been criticized as collective punishment of both Hamas and civilians.
Israeli troops have since gathered in mass along the Gaza border, cutting off electricity, most water supply and stopping food and medicine imports, BBC News reported. As airstrikes destroy residential buildings and shut down hospital facilities, the death toll across the Gaza Strip has continued to surge, primarily involving innocent civilians.
The extreme acts of violence stem from a long-standing historical conflict between the two groups that spans decades.
The second speaker Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, commended the crowd for the walkout and encouraged students to continue to speak up because their voices are powerful, she said.
“Y’all feeling your power?” Abulhawa said. “You have it.”
Many people, including a United Nations human rights expert and human rights organizations, like the Center for Constitutional Rights, consider the situation to be a mass ethnic cleansing or genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. Others, including the United States government, believe Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas.
Protesters marched from Pollett Walk to Sullivan Hall to protest outside of the president’s office, continuing their chants and holding signs with phrases like, “There is no peace within an occupation,” and “Stop apartheid, end occupation.”
Mahalia Trudeau-Williams, a junior painting major, expressed disappointment with the university’s response to the violence.
“I would hope that Temple urges the Board of Trustees to support the ceasefire in Gaza, and the end of occupation in Palestine in general,” Trudeau-Williams said.
Temple must foster an environment open to diverse expressions, as freedoms of speech and assembly are essential to its mission, and emphasizes respect and rejection of violence and terrorism while prioritizing the safety and support of all community members, the university wrote in a statement to The Temple News.
“Some of our community members affirmed their right to have their voices heard today,” the university wrote. “The university does not endorse the statements of any protestors and condemns any anti-Semitic or Islamophobic views.”
Englert offered comfort to students who may have been affected by violence in Israel and Gaza, in an Oct. 9 announcement to the university community. Four days later, Englert condemned the Hamas attacks in a second announcement but did not comment further on violence in Gaza.
In an open letter to the university posted to social media, SJP expressed disappointment in Englert’s message, considering it an unbalanced and biased stance that puts a target on Palestinian students.
“To focus only on the loss of Israeli lives whilst failing to condemn the attacks on Palestinians is extremely harmful and further dehumanizing to Palestinians,” the letter said. “It shows that Temple University is clearly not supporting its Palestinian students and faculty equally and is sending a clear message that their grief for loved ones does not matter.”
While in front of Sullivan Hall, Aleem, a senior history and biology major who chose not to share his last name for safety reasons, spoke to the crowd and encouraged protesters and allies to stand in solidarity in the face of oppression.
“We will never stop fighting for the cause of these people, for the cause of the Palestinians because this is a just cause to fight for,” Aleem said.
Various other speakers, including Nour Qutyan, a 2021 alumna and former president of SJP, and Zoe Bertrand, a Jewish student from the Beasley School of Law who supports the Free Palestine movement, also addressed the crowd.
The last speaker, Omar, a Pittsburgh-based activist who also chose not to share his last name for safety reasons, encouraged students to continue protesting, as their activism will eventually pay off, he said.
“So my brothers and sisters, the work that we’re putting in, the organizing that we’re doing, the structure that we’re putting up,” Omar said. “We may never see the fruits of what we plant, but we never stop ‘cause we got people coming after us.”
The crowd cheered as Omar ended his speech, and the group marched back to the Bell Tower to continue the protest.
SJP released a petition, which now has more than 1,300 signatures, urging Englert and other university officials to release a statement acknowledging the pain and suffering of Palestinians.
“Many of the greatest movements in U.S. history started with college students organizing,” SJP wrote in a statement to The Temple News. “By walking out on campus, we are boldly expressing our support of Palestinians and showing our solidarity to their cause.”