Chants of “long live Palestine, long live Gaza” were heard in front of McKeldin Library as a warm breeze blew through this university Tuesday afternoon.
At the opposing end of the mall, the university’s annual Israel Fest was taking place, Testudo himself adorning the blue and white Israel flag.
Students organized to protest Israel’s day of celebration, holding signs reading messages of “Zionism Kills,” “End Occupation” and “Free Palestine,” all pleading for justice for the country that has a long-told history of turmoil with Israel dating back to 1948.
“We’re protesting it [Israel Fest] because this is not a Jewish festival. This is explicitly called an Israeli festival, and it is wrong to carry out a festival in the name of a country that is responsible for [the occupation of Palestinian people],” protester and junior English literature major Aiyah Sibay said. “The argument we’re making is that this is a human rights issue, not a sectarian issue. It’s not a religious conflict.”
Protest leader Mohammad Sajjad Soltanmohammadi, a senior biology and philosophy double major, spoke through a megaphone to the group of students around him, urging listeners to read unbiased material and learn the facts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“We want to show that we are not against the Jewish people, but we are pro-equality and humanitarian acts for everyone,” Soltanmohammadi said. “They’re celebrating something that is so deeply intrinsic with racism and apartheid, and we have to show that this is the other ugly side of the happy life they built for themselves.”
Following the demonstration, a sea of red, green, yellow and black flags and signs paraded toward Israel Fest as the group set out to lie down in the center of the festivities, serving as a reminder Palestinians are “the grounds for which Israel was built upon,” as paraphrased from the demonstration.
“Live in peace and equally. That’s the point,” Soltanmohammadi said. “You can’t have segregation like you had in the 1900s in America. You can’t have segregation like we did in South Africa. There is a very clear reason why Nelson Mandela was pro-Palestine. That’s our message.”
As with any protest, the group was met with opposition.
As tensions in the air became thicker and the afternoon sun blazed hotter, tears were shed, frustrations were voiced and questions were posed—all before the College Park police intervened to split up the group. When asked for comment, officers present declined to comment.
“I was here celebrating Israel Fest. I was also there witnessing what was happening on McKeldin and followed them all the way here to the bottom of the mall. All I can really say about it is that it’s a very complex and [nuanced] issue,” freshman government and politics and Arabic double major Joshua Silverman said. “It’s not black or white. Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. It’s just the nature of the issue.”
“With Israel Fest, I think it’s a celebration of the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. It’s celebrating the history, success and diversity overall of the country itself, and all the different people who are involved in it,” Silverman said.
Featured Photo Credit: The students, who were protesting in the center of Israeli Fest, were moved from the location of their die-in to a less obtrusive space by Lt. Lisa Payne and Lt. Min Pak. (Photo by Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Lerner is a freshman multiplatform journalism major and may be reached at email@example.com.