GW, Palestinian existence is not “terrorism” – Mondoweiss

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On October 24, Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University held an action in Kogan Plaza wherein phrases were projected onto Gelman Library, honoring who are now over 10,000 Palestinians slaughtered by the Zionist regime since October 7 and protesting GW’s refusal to sever material ties with entities perpetrating this genocide. The action was in full compliance with the law and university policies pertaining free speech, a supposed constitutional right that was suppressed by the GW Police Department at the behest of Dean of Students, Colette Coleman.

Our protest against ongoing genocide in Gaza has been demonized as support for terrorism and antisemitism by school officials, far-right Zionist organizations, and Congressional representatives. There have been dangerous attempts to dox students exercising their right to oppose genocide, calls to expel or deport them, as well as arm Zionists on campus. 

This is not an isolated incident. It is part of an ongoing pattern of blatant discrimination by GW administration against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities on campus. While President Granberg has repeatedly condemned “attacks on Israel,” she has failed to acknowledge the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people perpetrated by the ZIonist entity. Most despicably, Granberg deliberately misrepresented our vigil — an expression of grief for our thousands of martyrs — as a “celebration of terrorism.” 

Additionally, GW refuses to divest from arms dealers that aid and abet mass slaughter in Gaza, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Elbit Systems, opposing broad student support for divestment exemplified by a passed GW Student Association resolution. The university that once refused to divest from apartheid South Africa now proudly boasts about how, in 1985, student organizers etched  “FREE MANDELA” into a sidewalk. Four decades later, they condemn a projection and once again refuse to divest from apartheid and condemn ethnic cleansing

GW and President Granberg claim they want Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims to feel “welcome and safe” on campus. How can we feel “welcome and safe” when our collective mourning is demonized, when the mouthpieces of this institution weaponize racist and Islamophobic language against our communities, and when the same people claiming to protect us are profiting off our people’s death?

In the past weeks, GW students perceived to be part of Middle Eastern and Muslim communities have faced physical threats and assaults. Many of these students are afraid to seek help from GW, fearing racist institutional retaliation. Instead, they have turned to student organizations, SJP included, to report incidents of young women having their hijabs ripped off, and others receiving verbal harassment as well as attempts at physical violence. 

This comes during a terrifying surge of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia across the country fueled by misinformation spread by major U.S. media outlets, these levels of which we have not seen since the years following 9/11. Counter-protestors have driven their cars into crowds, brandished guns, and fired shots at pro-Palestine demonstrations around the country, including in Minneapolis, Harrisburg, Brooklyn, and Chicago. A Palestinian family’s home in Denver was shot at following death threats. On Oct. 14, a Chicago landlord stabbed six-year-old Palestinian Wadea al-Fayoume 26 times, killing him. الله يرحمه (May he rest in peace). The attacker also stabbed the boy’s mother, who sustained serious injuries. During the attack, the culprit yelled, “You Muslims have to die,” and “You Palestinians don’t deserve to live.” 

Wadea is only one of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their lives in the past weeks, murdered by the Zionist regime and those who align with them. Since our projector action, entities across the country have attempted to demonize our usage of the word “martyr.” In Arabic, we refer to each of those killed at the hands of the oppressor as a “shaheed شهيد,” or “martyr,” its literal translation meaning “witness,” as our martyrs bear witness to the world for the crimes committed against our people. This term is used across the Arab world by communities engaged in liberatory struggles. Algerians refer to the over 5 million Algerians killed during brutal French colonialism as ” شهداء,” martyrs. The Sudanese people refer to all those killed in government massacres as “شهداء,” martyrs. In glorifying our martyrs, we grieve and honor the countless lives robbed by the Zionist regime over 75 years of settler colonialism and Nakba. We glorify over 10,000 Palestinians, including 4,237 Palestinian children, murdered in cold blood. Above all, we glorify the struggle to be free for which they were killed.

For these many reasons, we held this projector action, intentionally using this method to comply with DC and federal law and University regulations around demonstrations and signage. This expression of free speech, however, was forcibly suppressed by GWPD at Dean Coleman’s request. 

A Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University protest where phrases were projected onto Gelman Library, October 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University)
A Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University protest where phrases were projected onto Gelman Library, October 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University)

Early on, GWPD officer Sean Brown confirmed our action did not violate any laws or policies, but later, the same officer, alongside officer Jerome Royster and Assistant Dean of Students Brian Joyce, claimed we violated University policy because the area wasn’t reserved. The GW Code of Student Conduct specifies that “the lack of a reservation to use space or other university resources is not by itself a basis for terminating any expressive activity.” (IV. D) The individuals in question further claimed we violated this “Digital Signage” policy, which only addresses event advertisements on TV “digital signage screens” in the Student Center and the residence hall, District House, with a different section addressing only physical posters.

Unable to provide evidence of any policy violation, Officer Sean Brown told four SJP members at the scene that it didn’t actually matter if there was a policy violation, saying, “she [Dean Coleman] could have made it up.”

Clearly, university officials would rather trample on our rights than allow our communities humanity and respect in our time of mourning. Granberg instead released a statement “denounc[ing]” our desire for national liberation and our demands for an end to GW’s complicity in genocide. The GW Hatchet, the school’s largest student paper, echoed these false accusations of antisemitism — repeatedly weaponized against Palestinians — which our brothers and sisters in Jewish Voice for Peace have consistently rejected and discredited. The Hatchet also refused to publish this piece, claiming that they require writers to name themselves, despite the heightened risk of doxxing and harassment, and despite having published many pieces under organizational bylines in the past. 

This crackdown on students organizing for Palestine is not limited just to GW. Across the country, Palestinian student activists are being repressed by their university administrations and government officials. On the same day as our projection action, Florida’s State University System released a directive banning all Students for Justice in Palestine chapters from Florida public university campuses. The following day, Mitch McConnell delivered a speech on the Senate floor condemning our action at GW as “anti-semitic” while praising Israel’s mass carpet bombing of Gaza as “self-defense.” The Senate also passed a resolution that Thursday, attacking pro-Palestinian students as supporting “the actions of Hamas” and “terrorists,” and condemning students at various universities for acknowledging the context of 75 years of occupation and ethnic cleansing, and expressing unwavering solidarity with our people. 

It is within this context that we wholeheartedly condemn President Granberg, Dean Coleman, GWPD, and GWU for abdicating their responsibility to protect students and our right to free speech, and for instigating violence toward the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities both on campus and in our homeland. 

On November 3, SJP, along with 11 other student organizations, protested President Granberg’s inauguration ceremony to make clear that the GW student body stands with the Palestinian people and against genocide, Zionism, and fascism. Furthermore, we presented our list of demands. Our list of demands are as follows: an immediate condemnation of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, the retraction of all statements weaponizing racist and Islamophobic language against our community, and, most importantly, the termination of all financial and material ties between GW and the genocide of Palestinians.

In demanding this, we understand that liberation will never come from those who profit from ethnic cleansing, imperialism, and militarism. We cannot and will not rely on institutions that dehumanize our community and fund the killing of our people to keep us safe. We keep us safe, and only through the fabric of mutual care and revolutionary community action will our people attain freedom.

We will see a day when our homeland is reunified, when power is returned to indigenous hands, and when our refugees return to the homes and villages they were ethnically cleansed from, across all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, under a red, black, white, and green banner of justice and liberation for all oppressed peoples.

At Mondoweiss, we understand the power of telling Palestinian stories. For 17 years, we have pushed back when the mainstream media published lies or echoed politicians’ hateful rhetoric. Now, Palestinian voices are more important than ever.

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