A day after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Florida universities to deactivate pro-Palestinian student groups, a crowd of over 250 people rallied on UF’s campus with Palestinian flags draped over their shoulders and drawn onto cardboard signs.
UF students and Gainesville community members gathered Wednesday at 5 p.m. for a walkout and vigil demanding an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza. The event was a collaboration between on- and off-campus organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Gainesville Solidarity Network.
Protesters met at the corner of 13th Street and University Avenue, where event organizers led chants of “Free, free Palestine” and “Palestine will never die.” Club members circulated the crowd, passing out water bottles and flyers as police officers monitored from a few steps away.
The group faced the street as it waved posters reading “stop killing children with our taxes” and “Gazan children were not born to die.”
After 30 minutes, organizers led participants in a march down Southwest 13th Street and across Plaza of the Americas before stopping outside Turlington Hall. The group clustered around a table while club leaders gave speeches calling for the U.S. government to end its support of Israel.
The protest was a response to Palestinian group Hamas’ attack on Israel Oct. 6 and Israel’s resulting declaration of war. While authorities like UF President Ben Sasse have voiced support for Israel since the conflict, others call for the release of Palestine from Israeli occupation.
The day before the protest, DeSantis sent a memo to school leaders of state universities asking them to “crack down” on pro-Palestinian campus events led by university SJP chapters.
Far from feeling intimidated, club leaders told the crowd they felt complimented DeSantis was threatened by their resistance.
Cameron Driggers, an 18-year-old UF business administration freshman, attended the protest because of frustration with anti-Palestinian rhetoric from both the U.S. government and UF administration.
“UF is home to not only people with connections to Israel, but to Palestine,” Driggers said. “I expect us to be representative of all students, not just toe the politically expedient line and ignore the plight of Palestine.”
Another Palestinian protest and vigil was held by Gainesville Solidarity Network on the same street corner three days earlier, but didn’t draw as large a crowd, said 20-year-old UF nursing sophomore Guileinah Dupiton, who attended both events.
“I’m seeing people that aren’t just students, but people from the community, people bringing their children,” Gupitton said. “Protesting brings people together.”
For Fiona Barnes, a UF business professor, the conflict reminds her of growing up in South Africa under an oppressive Apartheid system, she said. The Palestinian situation is similar to South Africa in that colonized people are trapped in areas they cannot escape from, she added.
“My mother always said when she was there, it was called Palestine and not Israel,” she said. “It’s a very sad situation when anybody occupies or colonizes another country — it’s not going to go well.”
The next event in Gainesville Solidarity Network’s Actions for Palestine schedule will be a Palestinian dinner for community healing Sunday.
Contact Zoey Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39
Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator.