Human Rights News Politics

Why are American Ivy League campuses showing support for Palestine, while the UTG and other African universities remain silent?

Fatoumatta: What accounts for the lack of participation from University of The Gambia (UTG) students and academics, as well as Islamic religious populists and activists, in the recent global protests against the genocide in Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian people?

Historically, university students and scholars have been pivotal in advocating for justice and social change. They have led movements against apartheid and for Palestine. For instance, during South Africa’s apartheid (1948–1994), university students played a key role in opposing racial segregation policies. The 1976 Soweto Uprising, where students protested against the enforced use of Afrikaans in schools, is a significant example, which ended in a tragic loss of life due to police violence.

Student activism, both in South Africa and around the world, played a crucial role in bringing attention to the injustices of apartheid. Their demonstrations, boycotts, and advocacy efforts added to the global pressure on the apartheid government.

Universities’ students across the globe have been active in supporting the Palestinian cause. Through peaceful demonstrations, event organization, and social media engagement, they have helped to magnify the voices of Palestinians and push for justice. It’s important to recognize that student activism can be a potent catalyst for change, whether it’s opposing apartheid, championing Palestinian rights, or tackling other international concerns.

Fatoumatta: The situation in Gaza is deeply troubling and has ignited debates globally. Being a Palestinian child often involves waking to gunshots, cries, and mourning. These children frequently endure hunger, consume contaminated water, miss educational opportunities, and lack proper healthcare. It is not uncommon for them to witness the injury or arrest of family members. In response, they may express anger, confront soldiers, experience tear gas, and face arrest or injury themselves.

Reports indicate that Israeli forces have engaged unarmed Palestinians in Gaza, resulting in casualties. Since October 7, there have been claims of genocidal acts. It is a day to reflect on the lives of children in the densely populated and disputed areas of Palestine. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories suggests there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that acts of genocide may be occurring against Palestinians in Gaza, marking a severe phase in a decades-long conflict.

In seven months, more than 30,000 Palestinians were killed, and the Gaza Strip was razed to the ground to make it impossible to make it possible to live there. The dehumanization of a people and the desire for its erasure must provoke a reaction from all those who still believe in humanity.

Israel’s far-right government, after receiving unconditional support from its traditional Western allies, is seeing its image compromised and its moral isolation gradually take hold given the scale of the crimes.

Public opinion around the world, in the face of the massive and disproportionate response, has expressed deep emotion at what the International Court of Justice has described as a plausible risk of genocide. We are in the 21st century, and this barbarism that is taking place before the eyes of the powerless world is intolerable.

Young people in the West everywhere are raising their voices to denounce the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Benjamin Netanyahu and his government of openly racist Jewish supremacists, who have repeatedly called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Fatoumatta: U.S. universities are in the midst of a whirlwind, with students sympathetic to the Palestinian cause who have been calling for a ceasefire for months despite the inertia of a Biden administration whose support for Israel is absolute. Especially since if this war continues, it is also thanks to Washington’s support, in terms of funds and weapons, to the Israeli government. Faced with the massive nature of the protests, accusations of anti-Semitism quickly emerged to delegitimize a non-hemiplegic discourse that says that Palestinians exist and should not have their dignity of existence trampled upon.

In both America and Europe, the debate is intense. Students at Sciences Po Paris are protesting to halt the violence in Gaza. Numerous conferences have been held at this renowned institution and across other universities to condemn Netanyahu’s actions against Palestinian civilians. This unrest has sparked a national debate in the public media, polarizing opinions. Accusations range from supporting Hamas to allegations of anti-Semitism, but young students are boldly speaking out against what they see as unconscionable acts.

Fatoumatta: Our nation has consistently supported the Palestinian cause, a stance that dates back to Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s era, when we voiced our concerns at the UN regarding the Middle East crisis.

Beyond governmental efforts, what role do universities play? As young people in Europe, America, and Asia take action for peace in the Palestine/Israel region, one wonders what Gambian students are advocating for, especially when they are known for their readiness to protest and broadcast their views on various issues

Historically, universities have served as pivotal supporters of the Palestinian people, similar to their role in the anti-apartheid movement. The Gambia, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, has been central to global upheavals, championing values of peace, tolerance, and humanism. However, these values are now eroding. Alongside a growing mediocrity in intellectual spaces, there’s a waning interest in significant universalist principles. The University of The Gambia, among other institutions of higher education, is increasingly nurturing students and faculty preoccupied with trivial local political disputes and partisan politics. Such preoccupations could lead to the metaphorical burning of knowledge sanctuaries or the signing of numerous petitions that often serve no purpose other than defending fascists. Moreover, there is a rising trend of defending conservative and regressive ideas, rather than fostering new progressive visions that align with the course of history.

Fatoumatta: The silence of some distinguished academics and thinkers on a crime of such magnitude and seriousness, which strikes at the very heart of humanity, is surprising. These individuals, who claim to be exemplars of virtue and remarkable values, have previously disturbed our peace with their widely endorsed opinion pieces supporting a questionable political stance, championed by individuals of suspect morality. In the current international climate, where accusations of anti-Semitism are leveraged against many critics of Israeli policy, the reticence of intellectuals in American and European institutions becomes somewhat understandable. Supporting the Jewish state could provoke accusations from peers of being allies of an “Islamophobic West.” Conversely, advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people could lead to personal attacks, shaming, and calls for ostracization, effectively ending their careers in Western intellectual circles, known for their conferences, meetings, and symposia. However, within the lecture halls and campuses of our nation, where the risk of being accused of racial profiling is less, students, academics, and civil society should advocate for the Palestinian cause. They should champion peace and the coexistence of two states within secure and recognized borders, upholding international law and, more importantly, basic human decency. The hope for this change rests on the brave students, lecturers, and academics who have shown their dedication to justice and humanity through active protests across university campuses. Echoing the words of former American presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, it is these young individuals who carry the torch of hope.

This is a truly remarkable moment in world history, and it represents a seismic and monumental shift in the perception, hearts, and minds of the younger people in a nation that has been in the pocket and under the control of the Jews and the Zionists since the end of World War 11.

Please permit me to end this contribution with the following.

Nothing symbolizes the renewed hope that we are witnessing more than the beautiful and moving words of Professor Rashid Khalidi, who has been a Professor of Modern Arabic Studies at New York’s Columbia University for the last 22 years.

Fatoumatta: In an inspiring address to the students and a speech that will reverberate throughout history, he said, among other things, the following.

“This is about a genocide being carried on with American money and with American weapons, against a people enduring generations of occupation. The students of Columbia fought against the Viet Nam war when I was a student here many years ago. We protested against that war then and today we honor the memories of those who took part in that great struggle by doing the same for the Palestinians and the people of Gaza!”

May God guide and protect them all and grant the people of Gaza and Palestine victory!

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