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News / Northwest

Hundreds of WA students walk off campuses to protest U.S. aid to Israel

By Claire Bryan, The Seattle Times
Published: April 24, 2024, 7:38am

Hundreds of high school and college students across the Puget Sound region walked out of school Tuesday to protest Israel’s fighting in Gaza.

Some gathered outside their school’s front offices, where they listened to student leaders chant into megaphones. Others left school and flocked to Cal Anderson Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to do the same. Anywhere from 20 to 150 students turned out at each of a dozen Seattle-area schools, but overall the protests were calm and low-key.

“We demand a free Palestine,” and “Free, free Palestine,” students chanted at Cal Anderson Park. They carried posters that read “Genocide is never justified” and “Cease-fire now” during a small march down streets in West Seattle.

The students are demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel, the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Across the country, pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses have disrupted classes, raised tensions with administrators and led to standoffs with police and student arrests. There were no demonstrations at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus Tuesday, but some college students showed up in support of the high school protesters.

Leo McKenna, a 16-year-old Garfield sophomore, said he left school and came to Cal Anderson Park for a simple reason: “I decided to show up because I think that civilians dying is bad.”

“I support neither Hamas nor the Israeli government,” he said. “I don’t want civilians to die. That’s it. I am pro-civilian.”

UW student Loren Peterson used a bullhorn to address the crowd from atop a metal structure and criticized the university for its ties to Boeing.

“Telling generations of young people that there isn’t enough money for free college or free health care or housing our unhoused neighbors, and then spending billions to commit the gravest assault on Gaza — it really does elicit a very particular type of rage,” he said.

Magnolia Watson, 18, a senior at Garfield High School, said she was moved to protest because many of the war’s victims are young and in her peer group.

“I have bounds of privilege, and then to see people that are my age, that are going to high school, that have a Spanish test in the morning or whatever, having to go through what they’re going through, it’s hard not to do something about it,” said Watson, who told the crowd she is Jewish during a speech at Cal Anderson Park. “It’s hard to see my peers struggling with something like this and to not do anything.”

Other Garfield students said staff asked them where they were going when they walked out, but allowed them to leave campus. The students said they didn’t fear consequences because they have “more understanding and support” from administrators at Garfield, a school with a tradition of student activism.

At Seattle Public Schools, students filled out a civic engagement activity form to receive an excused absence from school.

Bev Redmond, assistant superintendent of public affairs and interim chief of staff, said the district has used the form since 2020, when the School Board passed a policy allowing students to participate in one civic engagement activity each semester.

Before the planned walkouts, Solly Kane, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, urged parents and educators to speak to their kids about the line between peaceful protests and free expression, and when such protests could be interpreted as antisemitism.

Tuesday is the first full day of Passover, the weeklong Jewish commemoration of the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.

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A student representative of the Washington Revolutionary Student Union said when students chose April 23 for the walkout, they didn’t realize the date fell on Passover. The student said the group does not tolerate antisemitism or hate speech.

Tuesday’s walkout in Washington follows months of protests on the Israel-Hamas war.

Last Monday, dozens calling for an end to the war blocked rush hour traffic outside Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. They demanded “no more U.S. arms to support Israel” and pointed to Alaska Airlines’ partnership with Boeing, which supplies planes and other military equipment to the Israel Defense Forces.

Footage of the protest showed some people lying in the street and others locked arm-in-arm using the “sleeping dragon” technique, which has participants form a human chain by linking their arms inside PVC tubing. The technique tends to slow down police, as cutting off the tubing runs the risk of injuring protesters.

The SeaTac City Attorney’s Office has charged 46 people with misdemeanors for the protest.