Pro-Palestinian university protesters clash with state leaders in Texas | Israel’s Gaza War News

Austin, Texas – “It didn’t feel real,” said Alishba Jaid, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, describing the moment she saw about 30 state troopers walk onto the campus lawn.

Javaid and hundreds of his classmates had gathered on a lawn in the shadow of the campus’s 94-meter-tall limestone tower as part of a strike against Israel’s war in Gaza.

They wanted their school to divest from manufacturers supplying weapons to Israel. Instead, the number of law enforcement agencies began to increase.

State troopers joined at least 50 fellow police officers already in place, all wearing riot gear, according to Jawaid’s count. The protests were peaceful, but tensions were high. The soldiers continued to advance.

“That was the first moment I was really scared,” said Javaid, 22.

Dozens of students were eventually arrested on April 24 as police tried to disperse the protesters. Footage of the clash between police and demonstrators quickly spread online, echoing footage from other campus protests across the country.

But Texans face unique challenges in the fight against a far-right state government seeking to limit anti-Israel protests.

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning government agencies from working with companies that boycott Israel, and the state has since taken steps to further strengthen the law.

Mr Abbott also condemned the current protests as “hateful” and “anti-Semitic”, reinforcing misconceptions about the protesters and their goals.

Additionally, a state law went into effect earlier this year forcing public universities to close their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices.

Multiple students and staff members told NDMT that campuses are now less safe for people of color as a result of the law that forced the resignation of pro-DEI staff.

A barricade is set up in front of a tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin on April 30. [Nuri Vallbona/Reuters]

“Use violence to overthrow a minority”

Violence continues as students protest on the University of Texas campus.

On April 29, the last day of classes, police used pepper spray and flash bangs to clear the crowd at the Austin campus, but dozens more were surrounded by officers and dragged away screaming.

Hiba Faruqui, a 21-year-old student, said her knee “couldn’t stop bleeding” after being knocked over during a shoving match between students and police.

Still, she considers herself lucky not to have suffered worse injuries. She said it’s unrealistic to think that her university called state police and then had to send medical personnel to help her injured students. Ta.

“There are racist elements here that people don’t want to talk about,” she says. “There’s a xenophobic element that people don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe the police are emboldened to act in a certain way because there are more brown protesters.”

As calls for the sale continue, students, lawyers and supporters told NDMT they must overcome skepticism and outright hostility from the Texas government.

“Texas is known for using violence to overthrow minorities,” Faruqui said. “The reason this is shocking people this time is because it’s not working.”

A young boy sits on the shoulders of an adult during a pro-Palestinian protest as the Palestinian flag flies.
Protesters gather at Texas university to demand divestment from companies linked to Israeli weapons [Tyler Hicks/NDMT]

Monitoring of university donations

Many of the protests have focused on the University of Texas Endowment, an endowment intended to provide long-term support to the university’s nine campuses.

The University of Texas system has the largest public education endowment in the nation, and its value is 40 billion dollars.

Some of that money comes from investments in weapons and defense contractors, as well as aerospace, energy and defense technology companies with deep ties to Israel.

For example, ExxonMobil is one of the biggest beneficiaries of investment in this system, and the company supplies Israel with fuel for its fighter jets.

Those ties have spurred protests across the state’s public university campuses, including a May 1 demonstration at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Fatima, who only gave her first name to NDMT out of fear for her safety, was among the protesters. Wiping sweat from his forehead, a young child led a crowd of about 100 people in chants of “Freedom, freedom, free Palestine!”

Fatima explained that the divestment protests have been largely peaceful, making her voice heard above the noise.

“More than 30,000 people have been killed,” she said, referring to the death toll in Gaza, where Israel’s military operation enters its eighth month.

“And our university is investing in weapons manufacturing companies that are providing these weapons to Israel. We intend to stay here until our demands are met.”

Twenty-one students and staff were arrested in Dallas that day. Members of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, of which Fatima is a member, spent the night outside the county jail awaiting the release of their friend.

Outside the prison, one protester sarcastically pointed out that they had been arrested for trespassing on their campus, a seemingly senseless crime.

Protesters huddled under awnings as a thunderstorm began to intensify in the background.

Protesters applaud each other as they emerge from an Austin jail. A woman is surrounded by her two friends who are hugging her and closing her eyes with her emotions.
Student demonstrators applaud each other as they are released from the Travis County Jail in Austin, Texas, on April 30. [Nuri Vallbona/Reuters]

Texas state officials and university administrators justified Police are partially cracking down on the presence of outsiders who have no current ties to the campus.

But 30-year-old activist Anissa Jacaman is among those visiting the university protest to lend supplies and support.

Everyone has a role to play, Jacaman explained. Her role is sometimes that of a communicator, but more often that of a healer.

She is delivering water to student protesters at the University of Texas at Dallas and wants to provide a place for people to “come here and talk about how we heal.”

“This is a healing movement,” she reiterated, telling NDMT. “We have to carry each other.”

Jacaman is Texan through and through. She grew up in the Dallas suburbs and is a strong advocate for the state of Texas.

“I’m a proud Texan,” she said. “I actually think Texans are some of the nicest people in this country.”

But between 2012 and 2016, when she was in college, Jacaman began using her voice to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians.

Human rights groups have long warned that Israel imposes an apartheid system on its people, exposing them to discrimination and displacement.

In college, Jacaman’s friends often laughed at her passion. Although she often smiles and exudes her optimism, her voice turns serious when she talks about other issues, such as Palestine and the scourge of single-use plastics.

“They just thought I was a tree vandal, but it’s for human rights,” she said in a soft but confident voice.

But the current war has made her even more concerned. The United Nations has warned that famine is “imminent” in parts of the Gaza Strip, and human rights experts have said there is a “risk of genocide” in the Palestinian enclave.

Jacaman has been wearing a keffiyeh scarf since the war began on October 7, but she feared it would invite violence against her.

“Honestly, I wear it because I feel like it protects my heart,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing a disservice to Palestinians by not wearing this.”

But she has struggled to engage civil servants with concerns about divestment from industries with ties to war and the Israeli military. She tried for months to convince her local city council that “this is a human problem, everyone’s problem,” to little effect.

“Everything we’re seeing right now is about shutting down the debate,” she said. “If you say something about Palestine, you get labeled an anti-Semite. It’s a conversation starter.”

A boy speaks into a microphone at a pro-Palestinian protest. "liberate palestine" The flag waves.
A young boy leads a crowd in a pro-Palestinian song at a demonstration in Dallas, Texas. [Tyler Hicks/NDMT]

Young protesters look to the future

Students like Javaid, a final-semester journalism major, told NDMT they are still trying to figure out what healing looks like and what their future holds. In many ways, she and her friends are stuck.

They realize they need a break from scouring social media for information about the war, but it’s still all they can think about.

The usual college rites of passage: final exams, graduation, and job searches no longer seem so important.

“How do I go back to work now?” Jawaid asked after the protest.

Although she has cherished her time at the university, she has also been highly critical of the university’s actions to quell protests. But, she added, part of the blame lies with the government.

“The fundamental problem in Texas is state government indifference,” she said.

Jaid, who was born and raised in the Dallas area, plans to stay in Texas, at least for a while, after she graduates this month. However, she has mixed feelings about staying there for a long time.

She wants to work in social justice, particularly in higher education, but worries that such jobs are scarce in her home state.

Still, she feels responsible for her ties to the nation. The political climate in Texas may be tough, she said, but she has an obligation to her fellow protesters and to Palestine to continue to do her part.

“I don’t want to just say, ‘Texas is crazy,'” Javaid said. “I want to be part of the people who are trying to make this society better. Because if not us, then who?”

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