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News / Northwest

EWU students join protest against Israel-Hamas war

By James Hanlon, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 10, 2024, 7:43am

SPOKANE —Students at Eastern Washington University have joined protests across the country against the Israel-Hamas war.

Their demonstration ended peacefully Wednesday after a crowd of 50 to 100 gathered at the campus mall in Cheney for about an hour to show their support for Palestine and condemn what they called a genocide unfolding in Gaza.

Summer semester classes began on campus Monday.

“We are here to answer the call to solidarity, to stand with the Palestinian people, to keep our eyes on Rafah, to say no to genocide, to tell our university to divest, to call for a cease-fire,” Ka’din Rahman, the student who organized the protest, said through a megaphone.

The crowd repeated common pro-Palestine chants throughout the rally, including, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever.”

Speakers criticized EWU for not condemning the war and for its partnerships with Fairchild Air Force Base, which they said is complicit in U.S. military involvement overseas.

At the end of the rally, a Jewish student carrying an Israeli flag walked across the mall and shouted, “Never again!” referring to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel. He declined to be identified.

The protest otherwise ended without conflict.

The school once had a Jewish Club, but the group posted on Facebook in 2021 that it was no longer active.

The university’s Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs sent a mass email Tuesday notifying staff and students that they were aware of a demonstration called “All Out for Gaza” planned by the Spokane and Eastern Washington chapters of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

Rahman, a member of the Black Student Union and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that although they received assistance from the party, the protest was organized by students and alumni. He said the university’s communication tried to discredit the protest as outside agitators.

Many of the signs protesters carried had “Party for Socialism and Liberation” labels at the bottom. The party has participated in other pro-Palestine protests in Spokane, including ongoing demonstrations at Spokane City Council meetings.

Some of the signs, with messages such as “Free Palestine” and “Hands Off Gaza,” also appeared at a recent protest at Gonzaga University.

Rahman said the party promoted the protest on social media, but it did not notify the university about it.

Dave Meany, a spokesman for EWU, said the university notifies the campus of demonstrations when it becomes aware of them. Meany said this practice was based on feedback received after anti-abortion protests and counterprotests escalated on campus about five years ago. Staff and students said it would have helped to know the protests were happening, so they could be prepared or avoid the area.

Meany said the university was not trying to characterize the demonstration in any way, it was just sharing the information it had.

The email notification reiterated the university’s support of free speech on campus while calling for civility and safety.

The university also placed sidewalk signs around the mall that said, “demonstration in progress” and included a QR code linking to the university’s free speech policies and resources.

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Dressed in regalia, War Bear, president of the Native American Student Association, compared the Israeli occupation of Gaza to oppression of Indigenous peoples in the United States, saying that it comes from the “same colonial mentality.”

War Bear, who is Lakota and Rosebud Sioux with European heritage, led a moment of silence “for all the human beings that have been murdered and mutilated in this genocide.”

He said it was important to make sure the demonstration was peaceful.

“They will use any means to demonize us as advocates and activists supporting other human beings,” he said.

David Brookbank, a 1983 EWU graduate and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, criticized a recent partnership announced between EWU and Fairchild Air Force Base that will allow STEM students to work in support roles on the base.

Brookbank said that while Fairchild is not directly involved in the war in Gaza, the base is home to aerial refuelers that support offensive aircraft for the military and U.S. allies in the Middle East.

“Basically, they are the essential element in global imperialism of the United States,” Brookbank said.

Rahman, who is Black, Indigenous and Muslim, said he is passionate about the issue through knowing Palestinians and seeing their struggle as the same as Black liberation.

He does not condemn Hamas or the attack on Oct. 7.

“We don’t condemn resistance,” Rahman said. “Resistance is justified when people are occupied.”

Rahman said antisemitism is a massive problem in the United States, but the war has nothing to do with the Jewish faith or the Jewish people. It is specifically the Israeli government.

“Judaism is anti-Zionist,” he said.