The Muslim Student Association hosted a town hall on Palestine on Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. to advocate for Palestinian liberation and in response to an alleged lack of representation in student government and campus Islamophobia, among other issues. 

Students spoke of ways to work in solidarity with Palestine and their personal experiences. Nexus Stock Photo

“Especially in a campus that has felt so unsafe for anyone who is pro-Palestine, something like this was needed more than ever,” Muslim Student Association (MSA) President and fourth-year biology major Maheen Ahmad said. “There are countless amounts of students who have not been adequately represented by their elected student government officials. Some Senators especially seem to put their personal wants above everything else. The time has come where students will not accept this anymore and we will not remain silent.” 

On Nov. 16, 2023, Associated Students (A.S.) failed to pass a resolution condemning Islamophobia and Antisemitism, falling short one vote. MSA condemned the decision in an Instagram post, citing that the Senate did not include input from MSA in the creation and discussion of the resolution. 

Correction: An earlier version of the article misattributed the MSA statement on the A.S. resolution to condemn Islamophobia and Antisemitism to the A.S. resolution to condemn militant group Hamas.

Since the November action, MSA has been in talks with the A.S. Senators mentioned in their statement and is “working to create a better, mutual understanding,” according to updates to the post. Senators Alejandra Martinez, Diya Bhandari and Gabriela Salazar were present at the town hall. The Student Commission on Racial Equity (S.C.O.R.E.) extended itself as a resource to students as well.

“We wanted to try and gain insight on how to better use our positions in student government to fully represent your opinions, your concerns or comments, especially as you know how stressful the situation has been on campus and … how senate has disappointed us before,” Martinez said.

MSA has previously collaborated with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Afghan Student Association (ASA) in campus demonstrations rallying for the liberation of Palestine and the UC’s divestment from companies funding the occupation in Gaza. 

Around 25 students attended the event at the Humanities and Social Sciences Building’s McCune Conference Room in person and six students attended online over Zoom. During the meeting, attendees were invited to voice their opinions at a podium facing the audience, which the MSA recorded.

The purpose of the town hall, Ahmad said, was to “bring together a diverse community” and understand “how students are feeling on campus about the current Palestine activism.” 

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have died since October 2023, according to the Gaza Health Ministry as of Feb. 26. Half a million displaced Gazans have since retreated to Rafah, the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, where they have been sheltering for weeks. 

Students at the Tuesday meeting discussed the need for a united front, spreading education and awareness, their personal experiences and strategies to support Palestinians in Gaza.

Several students emphasized the need for the University to publish a ceasefire resolution.

“The discussion of a ceasefire cannot be understated. The cycle of violence and oppression by design partly perpetuates a cycle of despair and destruction. A ceasefire provides a crucial opportunity for humanitarian relief efforts to take place and for the groundwork to be laid toward the next steps to see a free Palestine,” a student said.

“We have the power to sow seeds of peace and cooperation that can transcend generations,” they continued. 

Some students spoke of language surrounding Israel and Palestine not reflecting what is happening in Gaza.

“I think people using words like war, and other specific language doesn’t acknowledge the disproportion like distribution of power and how certain states have more power than the other,” a student said.

One student, who claimed they followed pro-Israel accounts to understand their position, said pro-Palestine students should be able to address topics of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and how Jewish women are being mistreated in Palestine.

“It’s in my opinion, irrelevant to the situation, it’s a little bit of a straw man argument. But I think that’s one thing often brought up by pro-Israel groups,” they said.

Another student said that in an Israeli politics class, one student said borders were immoral in the context of other states, but in Palestine “are a necessity.” 

“In light of these types of classes, they see it as a safe haven for Jewish people and it detaches Palestine and the topic of Israel and Palestine in the context of other struggles and other places across the world,” they said.

Some students spoke of feeling ostracized on campus for their Muslim identity. One student said that one Jewish student said “he had to be really careful and stay away” from Muslim people because “if they found out, they would kill him.”

“He turned around, would not look at me, would not make eye contact with me and acted like I did not exist or was not a person,” they said.

Many students advocated for low-involvement actions to support Palestinians in Gaza, citing that many students don’t have the capacity to commit to certain efforts. Speakers proposed fundraising, social media posting, engaging in educational events and using apps to check if companies are backing Israel’s occupation of Gaza.

The meeting concluded at 9 p.m. 

“We hope that this town hall inspired all leaders to fight more for this cause, knowing how many people are willing to support it. The feedback given by the community will definitely be taken into account by our organization when planning future events related to activism. Knowing we have the community support to back up these efforts is motivating to do more,” Ahmad said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at lizzyrager@dailynexus.com