More than 200 students in support of Palestine gathered Saturday evening in Dunn Meadow to honor lost Palestinian lives and call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
IU’s Palestine Solidarity Committee organized the gathering, which began at 5 p.m. The gathering was sponsored by the Indiana chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, the world’s largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization. The crowd consisted of people of all ages, races and nationalities.
For 2.5 hours attendees chanted, waved Palestinian flags and held up signs. Many people wore keffiyehs — traditional Middle Eastern headdresses fashioned from cloth — around their heads and necks, and draped Palestinian flags across their backs. Throughout the night, cars passing by on the street honked in support of the demonstration; people trickled in from walks around campus, some still in costume from Halloween celebrations across the city.
“The mission, first and foremost, is to show our support for the people of Palestine, people of Gaza, as they’re under attack by the Israeli occupation, and to educate people the best we can about what’s going on and counter the endless flood of the one side that you normally see in American press,” IU PSC founder Bryce Greene said.
Saturday’s meeting was the latest in a series of gatherings on campus from supporters of Israel and Palestinel. IU students, staff and faculty have experienced a series of tension-filled events, including disagreements over pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel messages written on the bridge on Eagleson Avenue last week and a standoff between attendees of separate pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrations Oct. 10.
On the morning of Oct. 7, Hamas – a militant group governing the Gaza Strip — began firing thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, killing about 1,400 Israeli people.
Since Oct. 7, Israel has responded by conducting large-scale airstrike campaigns within Gaza, bombing multiple areas and causing a communications blackout Oct. 27 that hampered the flow of information and resources through the area until power began to be restored Oct. 29.
Organizers passed around sheets of paper with the names and identification numbers of some of the people who have been killed in Palestine over the past few weeks. One speaker criticized U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent questioning of the number of Palestinian people who have been killed in the Gaza Strip.
“As always, Palestinians have to provide evidence after evidence after evidence to prove that our statements are true,” the speaker said in their speech. “I have to ask though: why do we have to keep proving to the world why Palestinians are innocent, why we have to stand against what’s happening to them?”
Several people who spoke during the demonstration were Palestinian, and described the struggles they and their loved ones have faced. A member of the PSC executive board, who asked not to be named in this story due to safety concerns, said his Palestinian grandfather was removed from his home.
“This is more about human rights – it’s not a debate or an argument,” the PSC board member said. “It’s not convincing people what’s right or what’s wrong. We’re here to advocate for the lives that have been lost currently and to ask for peace.”
A speaker from the Indianapolis chapter of Palestinian Youth Movement, a grassroots movement of young Palestinians dedicated to Palestinian liberation, shared firsthand accounts from his family in Gaza, whom he said had been holed up in a hallway unable to contact him for 24 hours.
“‘We go to sleep knowing we might not wake up in the morning,’” he said, quoting members of his family. “‘The sun rises, and we hope Gaza is still here. When the sun sets, we will be meeting our creators.’”
He acknowledged the conditions of people in Palestine after being cut off from resources like food, electricity and internet connection.
“We send a message to our youth in Gaza: forgive us,” he said. “We may have failed you in the past, but we will never let it happen again.”
Multiple police cars sat on the street and in Dunn Meadow on Saturday, overseeing the safety of the gathering. Speakers encouraged the audience to pay no mind to counterprotesters if they approached. Ultimately, no counterprotests happened, and the night ended without conflict.
A significant portion of Saturday evening’s crowd were non-Palestinians allied with the cause, including many members of the Jewish community. People of various backgrounds who spoke talked about the importance of solidarity and unity with Palestinian people, no matter race or religion.
Malkah Bird, a chapter leader from Jewish Voice for Peace, said it is crucial for Jewish people to speak up to protect the most vulnerable. Jewish attendees in the crowd held up signs in support of a ceasefire: “Another Jew for a ceasefire NOW”; “Fight real anti-semitism, not criticism of Israel.”
“Adding your voice to this call is not anti-semitic. It is not anti-Jewish. It is just the opposite,” Bird said. “If you seek a future of peace and safety for all … then let us demand this with one voice. End the occupation, side with liberation, and free, free Palestine.”
An Arab Christian man said the struggles Palestinian people are facing transcend individual faith communities.
“The Christian community cannot turn away and pretend this doesn’t affect us,” he said. “Today’s gathering reminds us that we are not alone and that we are in community with one another.”
Elizabeth Valencia, a Mexican-American who grew up Catholic, spoke during her speech about how she has been fighting back against anti-Palestinian sentiments within the Latino community since she was 15. As the mother of Palestinian-Mexican children, she said, she is fearful.
She said two members of her sons’ family in Palestine have been killed over the last two weeks.
Many speakers called on IU President Pamela Whitten to call for a ceasefire and speak up in support of Palestinian students.
On Oct. 10 – three days after Hamas’ attack on Israeli territory – Whitten released a statement expressing sympathy for victims and offering support to IU students. The title of the statement referred to “the Middle East,” but did not mention specific groups or nations. After receiving criticism on X, formerly known as Twitter, Whitten released a second statement the same day mentioning Israel and Hamas specifically.
One speaker Saturday night asked how many Palestinians have to be killed before Whitten makes a statement.
“What number has to be reached for her to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians and Arab and Muslim and pro-Palestinian students on this campus?” they said. “We are your students too, grieving at this university. Aren’t we important to your campus too, or do you only cater to the majority?”
One sign in the crowd read “Whitten do you hear Palestinians tears.” Another: “President Whitten empathy shouldn’t discriminate.”
As the demonstration came to a close around 7:00 p.m., organizers led the crowd in a few more chants. Voices were even louder and stronger than before.
“Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry,” they shouted. “Palestine will never die.”
People embraced one another and raised their Palestinian flags higher in the air. Phone flashlights held up in tribute created a sea of lights as the sun went down. For some chants, organizers stepped away from the megaphone, leaving a chorus of voices echoing throughout the meadow.
As the crowd began to disperse, a small group of Muslim students gathered a few feet away from the gathering. Palestinian flags at their feet, they bowed their heads and kneeled in prayer.