Yesterday at 1 p.m., student group UWaterloo Voices for Palestine (UWVFP) led a walk-out for Gaza in the Arts Quad where, according to UWVFP, over 1,000 students, staff, faculty, and UW community members came out in solidarity with Palestine.
The walk-out began with words from a UWVFP speaker who condemned Israel’s siege on Gaza, which has 2.3 million civilians on the ground with limited aid, food, water, electricity, medicine, and fuel and according to the health ministry in Gaza has killed over 10,000 Gazans, 4,000 of whom were children.
“We are expected to believe that the 4,000 children who have been pulverized are terrorists in our own city,” said one UWVFP speaker at the walk-out.
Cries of “Shame!” soon followed from attendees on scene.
Student AJ Mbobi said that he attended the walk-out to protest “Israel’s apartheid and genocide on Gazans,” and appreciated seeing the high turnout of students.
Many at the march wore black-and-white and red-and-white keffiyehs (a garment that carries heavy significance for Palestinians), and some passed flyers with slogans reading, “Down with imperialism! Intifada! Revolution!” Popular chants included, “Free, free Palestine!,” “No justice, no peace!,” and “Ceasefire now!.”
Another speaker of UWVFP then issued a list of their demands on behalf of UWFVP directed at UW president Vivek Goel and the university. These included a statement acknowledging and condemning the genocide in Gaza, as well as a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank. They also demanded that UW take steps to combat anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia on campus and sever ties with all Israeli institutions.
To date, the university has issued two statements on Israel-Palestine. In an initial statement issued on Oct. 10, the university condemned “the reprehensible terrorist attack on Israeli civilians” where 1,400 Israelis were killed on Oct. 7 according to a count by Israeli officials, as well as “the loss and suffering of innocent Israelis and Palestinians caught in this violence.”
On Oct. 16th, President Goel released a follow-up statement in which he condemned the “heinous terrorist attack by Hamas” and “rapidly worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.”
This university response was criticized in an open letter signed by more than 200 student and faculty members for addressing the attack on Israel but not the 17-year blockade on Gaza, Palestinian casualties, or Israel’s war crimes.
The UWVFP directly addressed Goel’s statement calling the genocide on Gaza a “humanitarian situation [where] all parties should abide by the rules of international law” by highlighting Israel’s violations of international law — specifically the use of white phosphorus in densely-populated civilian areas in Gaza, which has been documented by Amnesty International.
After speeches and collective chants led by UWVFP speakers, the attendees began marching around campus, starting at Dana Porter Library before looping through the Rock Garden, the SLC, and EV3, and returning full circle to the Arts Quad.
Linda Zakout, a Palestinian attendee, said that seeing the turnout at the walkout “honestly just warms my heart.”
“It’s a good kind of surprise to see this many students beyond just Arabs and Muslims from all different kinds of backgrounds were willing to come out, march, and protest,” she said. Zakout added that she used to have to “explain” what it meant to be Palestinian, and “to think that now everyone knows what Palestine is, that’s crazy.”
Student Eloise Fan, another attendee at the walk-out, called the university “complicit in genocide.”
“President Goel should listen to the demands of the students, call for an immediate ceasefire, and condemn the genocide that is currently happening,” she said.
“We will not be on the wrong side of history, and we will not let anyone tell us that Palestinian lives are worth less than anybody else’s,” UWVFP told Imprint in a statement. “We made UW history today, and it is just the beginning.”
UWaterloo’s Voices for Palestine requested that Imprint not include club speaker names due to safety concerns.