Hundreds of University of Michigan students walked out of their classrooms and rallied on the Diag Wednesday afternoon in support of Palestine amid the Israel-Hamas war. The walkout, which was organized by Students Allied For Freedom and Equality in collaboration with 25 other organizations, was part of a greater national movement, with thousands of college students from across the country walking out to protest for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Israeli airstrikes in the region and U.S. military support for Israel.
The demonstration comes amid the intensifying human cost of war between Israel and Hamas. At least 7,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since the Israeli government declared war on Hamas following their Oct.7 attack on Israel, which killed over 1,000 Israelis.
During the walk out, protestors outlined four demands for the U-M administration: divest from companies profiting off human rights violations against Palestinians by Israel; conduct a formal inquiry into anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic biases on campus; support and reaffirm faculty and students vilified for their support for Palestine and make a formal statement defining the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza as an ethnic cleansing campaign aided by the United States.
LSA senior Salma Hamamy, co-president of SAFE, spoke at the rally about how she believes the current war has become a massacre against Palestinians. She said she believes the University is complicit with this violence by collaborating with companies that delivered military equipment for Israel to attack Palestinians.
“We, as a multiracial mass movement of student organizers for Palestinian liberation, have the power to change that,” Hamamy said. “By divesting from weapons manufacturers, we would be able to place targeted pressure on weapons manufacturers who formed partnerships with Israel.”
Jared Eno, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, told the crowd GEO supports Palestine, similar to many other labor unions across the country. Eno said he believes the oppression against Palestinians is so pervasive that many graduate workers don’t feel safe expressing their solidarity with them even on U.S. campuses.
“In 2018, one of our members declined to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to participate in a study abroad program in Israel,” Eno said. “This worker declined to do so because they were heeding a call from Palestinian civil society organizations for nonviolent actions to pressure Israel to end its oppression of Palestinians. … The (then) president of this University publicly condemned their actions and called them antisemitic.”
After the speeches, students marched to the Alexander G. Ruthven Building, where they believed University President Santa Ono was working. The students gathered on the first and second floor, chanting, “Ono, Ono, you can’t hide, you are funding genocide.”
During this portion of the rally, Martino Harmon, vice president for student life, and Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones came down to the first floor to meet with the student demonstrators.
Zaynab Elkolaly, SAFE director of activism, delivered the group’s demands to the two administrators in a speech. Elkolaly then urged the University to address the vilification of faculty members and students who express support for Palestinians. She cited an Oct. 16 incident when a truck displaying unsubstantiated allegations that U-M faculty were in support of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians drove through campus. The Michigan Daily was able to independently confirm the messaging on the truck.
“The display reaffirms the fact that faculty are putting themselves in a vulnerable position,” Elkolaly said. “The University is responsible for ensuring the safety of students and faculty, publicly condemning these dangerous acts of defamation and supporting these underrepresented groups — particularly faculty who are making these informed decisions based on their academic expertise in the topic.”
Harmon told demonstrators that a team from the administration would be willing to meet with the protestors on Friday to discuss their demands. He added, however, that he couldn’t promise a direct conversation with Ono or any immediate action from the University.
“We could have a group of representatives that can include administrators who can have more detailed discussions about your demands,” Harmon said. “But I can’t control the president’s schedule.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily following the walkout, Hamamy said she appreciated Harmon coming to listen to the students. However, she said she was disappointed in the administration for not taking a clear stance in support of Palestinians after more than 1,000 faculty and staff members called on Ono to acknowledge the losses felt among Palestinian students in an Oct. 11 letter.
“We felt (Harmon and Blake Jones) were strategically sent down to de-escalate the situation,” Hamamy said. “The University has not made meaningful changes. We had almost 1,000 faculty and staff signing on to a petition, calling out Santa Ono’s hypocritical statement. And then when Santa Ono released the second statement, he basically just reaffirmed his first statement … He hasn’t done a good job at addressing our concerns.”
Public Policy junior Om Shah, co-director of the South Asian Awareness Network, told The Daily that many students in his organization had strong ties to the Palestinian community. Shah said he believed many South Asians felt the shared trauma of colonization with Palestinians.
“As a subcontinent, we’ve always held colonialism as a very important concept shaping our identities,” Shah said. “We still feel the ramifications of that process and that violence that our communities face today. So obviously, when we see the same story happening in Palestine, we feel solidarity for them.”
An international student who participated in the walkout and requested anonymity due to fear of retribution for their support for Palestine told The Daily they felt moved by the wide range of students who came out in support of Palestine.
“You didn’t see any particular ethnicity,” the student said. “These are students from different places, different schools, different ethnicities, different religions. And they are standing together for justice.”
Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at email@example.com.