In the flashing red and blue light of police cars, students in support of Israel and students in support of Palestine faced off at Sample Gates on Monday night, separated by a line of police officers. For 20 minutes, both groups waved their flags, chanted and yelled at each other — the tense culmination of a night that began with two peaceful gatherings.
IU Hillel and Chabad, two Jewish organizations on campus, organized a gathering in support of Israel at 8 p.m. Monday at Dunn Meadow. Student leaders communicated with campus organizations to get the word out, planned speakers and prayers, and consulted the university and police to ensure everyone’s safety at their peaceful gathering.
“Student leaders from all different organizations have gotten together and we just wanted a peaceful gathering in support of Israel and to mourn the lives lost,” Chabad President junior Maddie Berkley said. “We’re not there to protest, we’re just there to show our support.”
The Palestinian Solidarity Committee, an IU advocacy organization, announced a peaceful counterprotest at the same time at Sample Gates. They condemned any violence, advocating for peace in Palestine.
Members of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee said they did not want to be named in this story due to concerns for their safety.
“We just stand for peace, it’s an emotional conflict,” one member said. “We don’t represent Hamas, and we don’t condone the actions of Hamas. But we also don’t condone the actions of the Israeli military. We do not want to see Palestinian children or Israeli children killed in this siege. It is a tragic event, and we hope things deescalate as soon as they can.”
Leaders of the IU Hillel and Chabad gathering implored the students gathered to support not to listen when a few people in support of Palestine shouted hateful comments as they drove or walked by the gathering.
A handful of students with Israeli flags walked across the other side of Indiana Avenue at the Palestinian gathering and yelled “fuck you terrorists.”
“We are peaceful! Don’t engage with them,” someone at the gathering said.
Around 9:15 p.m., a group of students coming from IU Hillel and Chabad’s gathering walked towards the protest. The Palestinian gathering, chanting “free, free, Palestine,” turned their attention and met the other group on the red bricks in front of Sample Gates.
Multiple police officers inserted themselves between the students. Some members of each group attempted to talk peacefully on the sidelines, with others shouting hateful messages over the police line. Most members of the Palestinian gathering continued chanting “free, free, Palestine” and “we want freedom, we want peace.”
The gatherings come after one of the largest attacks on Israeli territory in recent history, and the beginnings of an Israeli retaliation. As of the writing of this story, around 900 Israeli civilians, including children, and 73 Israeli soldiers have been killed. The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said more than 687 Palestinians, also including children, had been killed in Gaza. Thousands have been injured throughout the region. At least 11 American citizens were killed in the attacks.
On the morning of Oct. 7, Hamas, a militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, along with several other organizations including the Islamic Jihad, began their attack, firing thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, according to the New York Times. Soon after, Israeli authorities say around 1,000 militants breached border checkpoints by land, sea and air via paragliders.
According to Hamas, around 150 people of several nationalities have been taken into Gaza as hostages, with Hamas announcing they will execute a hostage and release videos of the act every time an Israeli airstrike hits “civilians in their homes without warning.”
Israel has responded significantly in recent hours, retaking captured territory and conducting large-scale airstrike campaigns within Gaza.
“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said. “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.” We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly.”
Roughly 2 million people live in the Gaza Strip, and fleeing is made nearly impossible with only one unreliable border crossing present.
The Palestinian Solidarity Committee's counter-protest started with the over 100 people present sharing candlelight. Soon after, members displayed posters and Palestinian flags, with several members wearing the flag themselves. Speeches began, intermittently interrupted by chants.
“I was advised by multiple people including my parents to not show up, and it took a last-minute decision for me to question what kind of man I want to be, and I want to see justice,” one member of the group said.
One speaker began by introducing the war’s toll on people they know.
“Today I got a phone call from my friend in Gaza telling me about how his aunt and sisters had to flee from their homes,” they said. “Their aunt’s house is bombed, and nothing is left."
Many speakers were Palestinians themselves. Some described the struggle as core to their identity.
“I'm here because the Palestinian cause is something that I have lived my whole life,” one speaker said. “It is something that deeply resonates in me, and I wouldn’t be who I am without Palestine.”
Another speaker described the conditions Palestinians and Palestinian refugees face. Their father and grandparents lived in poor conditions within the Beddawi Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon, where his grandparents died.
After decades of conflict, one student expressed their hope Palestine would be liberated within their lifetime.
“My mother never saw a free Palestine. My father never saw a free Palestine,” a protester said. “My only hope is that this is the generation that will see a free Palestine.”
Less than half a mile away, hundreds of people gathered at Dunn Meadow to honor both Israeli and non-Israeli victims of the conflict. Those in attendance held candles and wrapped themselves in Israeli flags.
“My friends and I thought it was really important to come out and support all of the Jewish people on campus,” freshman Alex Weiss said. “It’s really important for us to show our support, and we’re all heartbroken for what's going on in Israel and we hope there is an end to the conflict.”
The gathering opened with a speech by the president of Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee, junior Ethan Fine.
“We’re going to do what we do best, which is to unite as a community and be joyous,” Fine said. “As devastating as the news out of Israel is and as heartbroken as we are, the only thing we know how to do here is to be united.”
Hillel President, junior Rachel Applefield, said it was stressful to see the Palestinian protest, which she felt disregarded her gathering.
“We aren’t even protesting anything, we are just gathering to honor all the lives lost and tortured and taken,” Applefield said. “To see that we can’t even do that without there having to be some conflict is just so upsetting and disturbing.”
The gathering in support of Israel was originally planned to take place at Sample Gates, but the university recommended it be moved to Dunn Meadow because leaders expect such a large turnout. The Palestinian protest remained at Sample Gates.
“Right now, it shouldn’t be about politics,” Applefield said. “It should just be about our brothers and sisters who are being mass-murdered, tortured, killed and raped in Israel.”
As speakers addressed the crowd, chants from the pro-Palestinian group protesting at Sample Gates could be heard in the background.
“When we hear people around us who call for our destruction, we are going to be louder and we are going to be prouder,” Rabbi Sue Silberberg, executive director of Hillel, said in her speech.