VCU students walk out of classes for Palestine

VCU students sit around the chalk-covered Compass in a moment of silence for Palestine. Photos by Andrew Kerley.

Andrew Kerley, Audience Editor

“Since October seventh, 72 members of my family have been killed,” said Sereen Haddad, a Palestinian VCU student during a speech at a rally outside James Branch Cabell Library on Nov. 9.

The rally was part of a national effort to walk out of classrooms and rally to “shut it down for Palestine” in a protest organized by American Muslims for Palestine and VCU’s Palestinian Student Organization.

The walkout came after over a month of increased violence in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has been waging its war against the United States-designated terrorist group Hamas, according to the UN.

The tipping point of the present conflict came on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched an attack on Israel from the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing 1,200 people, according to Reuters.

Since then, over 10,000 Gazan civilians have been killed by bombings, air strikes and gunfire from the Israeli military in what the U.N. called a “graveyard for children,” according to Reuters.

Haddad said her family in Gaza only have a few minutes of electricity per day, partially due to Israel cutting off electricity to Gaza, and that they use their time to send a single message to their entire family on WhatsApp.

“We have to wait for a single notification to see if our bloodline is still going,” Haddad said.

Haddad said the “free Palestine” movement was “not a trend,” urging students in the crowd to continue protesting, lobbying and boycotting brands that support Israel.

After Haddad’s speech, students marched around Cabell Library, down North Linden Street and chanted “Gaza, Gaza don’t you cry, Palestine will never die” and “the people, united, will never be defeated.”

Kenza Zitouni, a founder of VCU’s new Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, said they walked out because they knew they needed to “stand in solidarity with PSO and Palestinian students.”

“The phrase goes ‘no business as usual until Palestine is free,’” Zitouni said. 

VCU students and Richmonders alike have been protesting for Palestine since the Oct. 7 attacks, according to previous reports by The Commonwealth Times. People marched down Broad Street on Oct. 12 and held a candlelight vigil on Oct. 19. A second march occurred on Oct. 22, that time “roughly 1,000 people” attending, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Students closed the Thursday walkout by sitting in silence around VCU’s compass. Selma Ait-Bella, a speaker, asked the crowd to “ground themselves in this discomfort.”

“Look around you,” Ait-Bella said. “We have clean air and lives to live. There’s no bombs going off in the background, no wailing, no screaming. This was just one walkout, just two hours of our time. We get to go back to normalcy, but others [Gazans] don’t. Be the voices for those who do not have voices, please.”

Students for Justice in Palestine and American Muslims for Palestine have scheduled a second walkout and a march to city hall on Friday, Nov. 17.

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