On May 21, approximately 1,000 individuals attended the March for Palestine event on the College Avenue campus to show their support for Palestine amidst ongoing violence, highlight Palestinian American voices and call upon elected officials to take action, according to a press release.
The event was co-sponsored by 14 student-led Rutgers organizations and local groups and featured several speakers from these organizations as well as the community, according to the release.
Community organizations such as New Labor, Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, New Jersey American Muslims for Palestine and Central New Jersey Jewish Voice for Peace were a few of the co-sponsors in attendance.
“The rally in New Brunswick was only the start to a series of actions in support for Palestine," said Rutgers Students for Justice in Palestine in a statement. "We want to make it clear to our political leaders that if they do not stand up for Palestine, they will be voted out."
Attendees called upon Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to co-sponsor resolutions to block the planned $735 million weapons sale from the U.S. to the Israeli government after more than 1,900 individuals have been injured across Gaza and nearly 250 Palestinians have died due to the bombing campaign so far, according to the release.
The participants demanded that New Jersey’s senators and representatives work toward ending all aid and weapons sales to Israel since the U.S. currently provides the country with $3.8 billion in funding annually, according to the release.
The names of 75 Palestinian children recently killed were read aloud at the event by attendees, according to the release.
"Palestine needs to be free and war must end. We can not keep sending money for arms. It's not fair that innocent people and children keep dying or become orphaned without parents," said Reynalda Cruz, a community organizer with New Labor. "These kids end up having to suffer and pay the consequences of this unjust war. No kids should have to go through that, and there should be a Free Palestine.”
In addition to the presence of various local organizers and groups, many Rutgers students also attended the event. Lamia Rashid, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said that as a Palestinian, she went to the rally alongside her family to advocate for their people and show appreciation for their history and heritage.
“You don’t need to be Palestinian, Arab or even Muslim to care about the lives, wellbeing and freedom of the men, women and children being oppressed and murdered in Palestine,” Rashid said. “We have to come together as a community to condemn violence and brutality against the helpless and to work together on making sure the correct narrative is spread and taught. Who are we to pride ourselves on all of the advancements we’ve made as a university if we do not bother to use that power when and where it truly counts?”
Jeanan Mokhemar, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy sophomore, and Mohammed Attiyeh, a recent graduate of the Rutgers Graduate School of Public Health, also both attended the event to show support for Palestine and spread awareness.
“Seeing everyone collectively protest for my country was one of the most beautiful moments of my life … It’s an honor for me to be able to come in front of the crowd and protest in the city that I was born in,” Attiyeh said. “For my family, those that are here today and those that we have lost (due to) the genocide.”
The students reported no disturbances at the event and said it was nice to see so many people standing in solidarity with Palestinians.
Mokhemar said that it is important for others to fight for Palestinians due to silence among the media, politicians and governments.
“(Rutgers students) should fight for what's right and should fight against the crimes being committed against the Palestinians,” she said. “Our school is known for being the best at everything, so we should be the best when it comes to speaking up about human rights.”
Rashid said she believes students should care about this issue because Rutgers itself is built on shared values of mutual respect and justice, and Attiyeh said it is crucial that people take action.
“Everyone needs to be donating to Palestinian aid … talking to their local representative, senators or even (writing) a letter to the president,” Attiyeh said. “I wanted to make it clear to everyone they should be doing real research as to how and why we got to this point so this can never happen again, not to Palestine and not to any other country in the future.”
Students had differing opinions on whether they felt that their voices were heard by the University following the event.
Attiyeh said he feels that their voices will only be heard when Rutgers takes action as he believes there has been a lack of recognition and support of the situation in Palestine. He said that his uncle, a Rutgers alumnus, protested for this same cause in 1982 on campus.
“I hope that our voices were heard by Rutgers, since we literally took over the streets of College (Avenue),” Mokhemar said. “We were able to chant and spread awareness to onlookers who just happened to be on campus, and I hope that they saw how important the Palestinian cause is to the students of Rutgers.”