Students for justice in Palestine

Ahmed Mustafa
Monday 20 May 2024

The Palestinian struggle for freedom is inspiring protest movements around the world, including among young people on US and European university campuses.


US police forces have arrested hundreds of students protesting across many university campuses in the country against the Israeli genocide in Gaza. This has done little to dissuade demonstrators and protests from gathering steam across the Atlantic in some European universities. The most notorious US action thus far has been the use of the police to disperse the sit-in by students at Columbia University in New York.

The crackdown on student protests appears to be unprecedented, not only in the level of the force used by the police, but also in the repressive response displayed by various politicians and officials.

New laws are being drafted in the US to criminalise criticising Israel, which is exceptional considering that no other state has been made immune from criticism by law. The scare-mongering tactics deployed in the US and the weaponisation of allegations of “anti-Semitism” against those protesting against Israel’s actions are muzzling free speech and independent opinion in the US.

 Zionism, until recently itself designated a racist movement by the UN, is now being given the status of a sacred religion in the US and one that is beyond criticism.

The mainstream media in the West is also dominated by a single voice that promotes the Israeli Occupation’s Apartheid narrative. Even McCarthyism, the “Second Red Scare” in the US in the early 1950s, was not as widespread as today’s policy of shielding Israel from criticism even to the extent of violating the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects freedom of speech.

The violent and repressive reaction to the student demonstrations and protests on US campuses should not come as a total surprise, however. Any objection to Israel’s military approach or political intentions has always been met with fierce counter-attacks. These have been amplified further in many Western democratic states. Objections have sometimes turned into verbal or physical counter-protests as far right groups gain more traction. Regardless of the ruling parties, the policies adopted in many of these states seek to appease rising ultra-nationalists.

I am not sure if the analogy is fully applicable, but the West at the moment seems to be going through a similar upheaval to the one our region experienced in the last few decades of the last century with the rise of so-called Islamic fundamentalism. This finally led to violent extremism and the rise of terrorist groups. The West is now witnessing a revival of the fundamentalist and racist attitudes of the early 20th century that led to the rise of Fascism and Nazism.

This might explain in part the harsh crackdown on the student protests and the repressive measures that the authorities are taking in the US and elsewhere in the Western countries. There is also the fact that mainstream politics there is often detached from popular thinking. Many in the West have been questioning the resilience of their countries’ system of representative democracy given people’s indifference to elections, referenda, and other democratic processes. The arrogance of many Western politicians, along with their nepotism and complacency, is only adding to people’s apathy.

The current student protests are not only against an unjust war on the Palestinians. Instead, they are a cry from a generation that is defying the disinformation and manipulation of the fabrications and “alternative truths” found in the mainstream Western media. Decades of manipulation based on falsehoods and the spinning of facts seem to be coming to an end with the eruption of a more informed protest movement amongst the younger generation in the West today.

Maybe this is what has motivated some to liken the current movement on many Western university campuses to the student demonstrations that took place in Europe, mainly in France, in the late 1960s. Whether the two movements are similar or not, the student movements of that era did not achieve their immediate goals. But they did ultimately help to change the political landscape and bring about more democratic societies.

The students camping out in university campuses in the US and Europe, or those arrested and facing punishment that amounts to expulsion from their institutions, may go on to become the leaders of their societies in a few years. Some of them might even venture into politics and find themselves in government, whether locally or nationally. They could go on to make a difference and bring about some level of justice in the world.

One might argue that previous protest movements by young people, students included, did not change the course of events. Anti-war demonstrations and protests swept the West at the beginning of this century, for example, but they did not stop the US war on Iraq and the eventual US occupation of that country in 2003.

The Occupy Wall Street sit-ins in the US in 2011 also did not bring an end to economic injustice. The rich have continued to get richer and the poor poorer across the Western world. It is understood that the current round of protests will not alone put a stop to the inhumane war on the Palestinians or deter Israeli aggressions against others.

Yet, there is no doubt that major changes in history are not abrupt, but instead happen steadily through the gradual accumulation of currents and generations. Millennials, Generation Z, and the current generation of students are the building blocks of changes that are to come. Ultimately, those changes ought to be positive for humanity and for basic human rights.

This is not wishful thinking, as history shows that any rise in extremist thought will reach a climax at some point and then go down over time. While this will not happen automatically, these young protesters and their predecessors can lead the push to upend it.

The Palestinian resistance to racist occupation is already a catalyst for that anticipated global change. This is not an exaggeration, just an acknowledgement of how the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom is inspiring mass movements around the world, especially among the younger generations.


*The writer is a London-based seasoned journalist.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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