'It's not about religion, it's about land'

Student protesters organize to raise awareness for Israel-Palestine war

'Free Palestine' photos sit on a bench Sunday, Nov. 19 outside of Warriner Hall.

The words echoed around Central Michigan University’s campus, from Warriner Hall to Park Library: 

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” 

This was the chant of seven student protesters as they marched around campus on Sunday, Nov. 19. 

“I don’t feel like I can sit around and watch this happen,” one organizer said. “I have the privilege of being at a higher education institution in America.” 

The two organizers, as well as the five participants, chose to remain anonymous, concerned about future employability in the state of Michigan, or any government job. Organizer One, as they will now be called, referenced the loyalty pact between the state of Michigan and Israel. 

“A resolution to support Israel, the long-standing partner of the United States of America, and to clearly condemn the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against the Israeli people starting on Saturday, October 7, 2023,” was passed by the Michigan senate last month. 

Organizer One said there are several misconceptions around the war floating around. Specifically, the role of religion in the conflict, and the limited but unfortunate number of people using the conflict to fuel antisemitism. 

“It’s not about religion, it’s about land,” They said. 

But according to the Israel 2022 International Religious Freedom Report, 73.8% of the population of Israel is Jewish, and the US Department of State categorizes the West Bank and Gaza areas as primarily Islamic. 

And as Organizer One pointed out, the occupation of Palestine is something that has been happening long before the more recent escalation or the actions of the terrorist group HAMAS (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya). They encouraged people to educate themselves by reading and learning from the “plethora of books” talking about the occupation. 

Bringing the conflict home

Another misconception, according to Organizer One, is the detachment from the conflict in America. 

“Not a single one of my professors brought it up,” Organizer One said. 

Organizer Two, agreed, emphasizing the importance of awareness and education from multiple perspectives. 

“Watching this happen in real time feels like a dystopian novel,” Organizer One said. 

CMU has yet to issue any kind of notice to students, but Organizer One said that despite the controversial nature of the conflict, she would at least like to see a notice of available services for anyone on campus who is affected. 

“It would be nice to see an email… with reminders of mental health resources,” she said, because this isn’t the only “genocide” happening in the world right now. They also referenced the civil war in Sudan, activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the war between Ukraine and Russia. 

And for Organizer One, the conflict is also linked to her identity as a Black person. 

“Palestinian people have historically been the biggest supporters of civil rights in America,” they said. 

For this she referenced the book “Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity,” a collection of essays authored by Matthew Quest and Lenni Brenner based on the messages of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 

Organizer two said that she and Organizer One typically attend more marches and protests than they organize, “but in this case nobody else was (organizing).” 

After marching from the CMU seal in front of Warriner hall, around the front of Bovee University Center and down the sidewalk West of Park Library, the small but determined group settled into a space in the library to call their representatives -- the second half of the event. 

While on the phone, the organizers and attendees reminded their representatives that they are not only registered voters, but voters who will turn to other candidates if a ceasefire isn’t called for by their current representative.