Columbia University student groups’ statement about the killing of 60 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip

The Palestine Working Group (PWG), Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP), Columbia Law Students for Palestine, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Migration Working Group (MWG) and RISE: Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity and Economics condemn in the strongest terms the killing of 60 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on May 14th by Israeli forces. 

This week, over 40,000 Palestinians of all ages, genders, and political and religious affiliations, participated in demonstrations to demand recognition of the Right of Return, mark the Nakba - the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war - and to protest the decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip and the United States opening its embassy in Jerusalem. Israeli forces responded to the demonstrations by firing indiscriminately at protesters, killing over 60 Palestinians and injuring at least 2,000 others, including more than 200 children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

In response to the misleading and false statements issued by the American and Israeli governments regarding these events and the failure of media sources to present accurate information, we, the undersigned, offer the following clarifying remarks:

1. The protests are not ordered, organized or directed by Hamas, but rather by the Higher National Commission for the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege of Gaza. This is an independent, umbrella, civil society organization, which is not a Hamas appendage or satellite of any individual party. The alleged efforts of Hamas figures to capitalize on a genuine, grassroots movement have been immeasurably overstated by government and media figures. Both organizers and participants have written extensively and discussed the reasons that prompted them to protest, and the importance and goals of the movement. Their voices are crucial in understanding the context in which these demonstrations are occurring.

2. The protests and demonstrations did not occur in isolation. Rather, they are a reaction to both long-term and immediate catalysts. The long-term catalysts include the decades-long blockade of the Gaza Strip, an instrument of collective punishment that has been deemed illegal by UN Human Rights experts, three wars in the past ten years, in which civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, and a deliberate degradation and deprivation of the coastal territory to the point that the United Nations has assessed it to be “unlivable” by 2020. Today, Palestinians in Gaza receive only a few hours of electricity a day, face a near-blanket prohibition on freedom of movement outside the over-packed Gaza Strip, endure soaring unemployment rates and receive only limited basic services, such as health and education, to cope with the present and develop their futures. 

3. The immediate catalyst for Monday’s violence, in particular, was the deliberate provocations by the Trump administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and transfer the American embassy to the city. The latter of these incendiary acts, occurring on the eve of the anniversary of Palestinians’ expulsion from their homeland, served only to humiliate and provoke Palestinians. The violence and death witnessed in Gaza could have been avoided, had the Trump Administration and Israel refrained from these provocative acts. It is a cruel irony that American and Israeli administrations, who regularly criticize Palestinians for incitement to violence, have jointly orchestrated the most incendiary act in recent memory.

4. The Israeli army’s dropping of cautionary leaflets or posting of warnings on Arabic-language social media in no way absolves the Israeli army or the Israeli government from the responsibility for the deaths. First, these acts are superficial and have little effect on stemming participation in protests or demonstrations. Second, and more importantly, it is not the responsibility of Palestinians to avoid being killed by Israelis. This hyperbolic victim-blaming obfuscates the fundamental fact that Israel has chosen to use lethal force to inflict death and disabling injuries at rate disproportionate to any presumed threat, which is a violation of international law. In many instances, the use of sniper rifles and other long-range weaponry has invalidated any claim of immediate danger to Israeli soldiers.

Palestinians are deserving of human rights, principally freedom of expression, the right to protest, the right to life, and yes, the right of self-determination. This is what Palestinians have been fighting for the last 70 years, are fighting for today, and will continue to fight for in the future; their rights. 

We would like to close by emphasizing that, in contrast to the statements and positions by American and Israeli governments, the only path to a final, substantive and universal peace is recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, especially refugees.

Signed in Solidarity,
Palestine Working Group (PWG)
Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD)
Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP)
Columbia Law Students for Palestine
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG)
Migration Working Group (MWG)
RISE: Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity and Economics