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Valley students speak out amid Israel-Hamas conflict, urge UC Merced, Stanislaus State to act

Students gathered at Stanislaus State’s quad on Oct. 30, 2023 to protest in support of Palestinian rights.
Rachel Livinal
Students gathered at Stanislaus State’s quad on Oct. 30, 2023 to protest in support of Palestinian rights.

MERCED, Calif. – As the conflict in the Gaza Strip escalates in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, the war’s shock waves are being felt here in the San Joaquin Valley.

Students gathered at California State University Stanislaus’ quad on Monday to chant for Palestinian rights, as the war’s death toll continues to rise, particularly among civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Monday’s demonstration against the war was one of several in recent weeks at Valley universities and other locations.

At nearby UC Merced, anti-war protests that each drew more than a hundred students followed a resolution that passed the university’s student senate last week.

The resolution urged the 10-campus University of California system to “divest from companies that are actively supporting Israel in carrying out the genocide in Palestine.”

UC Merced Student President Miguel Craven chose Tuesday to veto the agreement.

Still, the resolution, the first of its kind to pass by a UC campus student government since the war broke out, is a significant step for students like Jeneen Barakat, a fourth year Palestinian student at UC Merced, who said she has been personally affected by the conflict.

“I hope (the resolution) creates a ripple effect throughout the other UCs to raise our voices enough to have the UC follow through and divest from Israel,” Barakat said.

The agreement also asked the UC system to rescind a joint statement made by UC Chancellors in 2018 that prohibited an academic boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

Craven, the student president, said signing the resolution would have ignored students who were too afraid to speak up during the protests.

“It is not fair that the resolution was written from one lens,” Craven said.

Students plan to protest again during Wednesday’s student government meeting.

UC Merced officials have not addressed the local resolution directly, but did say they will provide counseling to those who need support.

An example for other universities?

Stanislaus State students have yet to write a resolution of their own, but chose to protest the university’s neutral response in their emails sent out to other students. Those students hope to create something similar to the UC resolution.

“We're still getting a group joined together,” said Stanislaus State student Sahar Fayaz. “We're not part of any student organizations, just independent students coming in and protesting. So we're trying to get to that kind of level.”

“This is supposed to be the most diverse and safe place for different kinds of communities and it's the place where they reject us,” said Nataly Hernandez, a fourth year student at Stanislaus State. “That is ridiculous.”

UC Merced and Stanislaus State are not the only universities seeing a rise in student activism over the war. Protests have spread to university campuses nationwide, stirring debates about the roots of the conflict and whether it can ever be resolved.

Some students may be hesitant to speak out

All of the protests in the Merced region have been peaceful thus far. In other areas of California, the demonstrations have been tense. Ariel Mizrahi, a Jewish member of UC Berkeley’s student senate, toldthe San Francisco Chronicle she has been sent hateful messages and called names.

“There is so much hostility making us feel uncomfortable on campus,” she told the Chronicle. “My community is already in mourning. The other side – they say they’re being harassed? What about us? A lot of Jewish people are liberal, but we feel lost and alone right now.”

Roger Feigelson, the executive director of San Francisco Hillel, told KVPR some students feel “skittish” about the war and have been hiding their Jewish identities due to the protests.

The Associated Press has reported that 1,400 people have been killed on the Israeli side of the conflict. Most of those deaths happened during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, which sparked the war.

Thousands have died in the Gaza Strip following the response by Israel to the attack by Hamas. The Gaza Health Ministry has put the Palestinian death toll at 8,300, most of whom are women and children, the Associated Press reported.

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.