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Groups organize ‘Walkout for Palestine’ event at UNLV

Updated May 1, 2024 - 9:05 pm

As protests continue across the country, groups of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered on UNLV’s amphitheater Wednesday, calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and for the university to disclose any investments it has in the Israel-Hamas war.

Holding Palestinian flags and donning keffiyeh, a crowd of about 200 people chanted, “We will free Palestine within our lifetime” and “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

Tuesday’s gathering at UNLV joined demonstrations on college campuses across the country protesting Israel’s actions in the war in Gaza — protests that have sparked debates over speech on campuses.

In contrast with those other campus demonstrations where violence broke out and police were summoned to keep the peace and make arrests, students at UNLV gathered peacefully, and law enforcement stood guard. A small counterdemonstration stood to the side, advocating for Israel and the end of Hamas.

Nick, the media liaison for the protest who declined to give his last name, said the coalition wants UNLV to meet with students to go over demands for divestments and disclosures, as well as issue a statement in support of pro-Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students who face harassment. Many protest participants declined to give their full names, saying they were afraid of harassment and “doxing.”

“We come out here every day and nothing is getting changed,” he said. “There’s no more universities in Gaza. There’s no more hospitals left in Gaza. Humanitarian workers are being bombed. … Over a hundred journalists have been murdered. Where does this end?”

’Bring them home’

As the demonstration continued, members of a smaller pro-Israel counterprotest made their voices heard.

Miriam Borvick, a first-year medical student at UNLV, stood to the side of the protest with a group of pro-Israel supporters demonstrating against the pro-Palestine protest.

They chanted “Bring them home,” referencing the hostages who were taken in the Oct. 7 attack.

“I believe that calling for a cease-fire is free speech, but I believe that calling for intifada, which is a violent uprising against the global Jewish community is not free speech, and UNLV should be shutting it down,” said Borvick, a Jewish student who said she is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

She cited two periods of intifada in Israel when suicide bombers and shooters would come into Israeli pizza stores and Israeli nightclubs and murder innocent people.

“When they call for intifada, they call for violence. They call for killing Jews,” Borvick said.

Bovick said it pains her that innocent Palestinians have been killed, and noted that the war is not against the Palestinian people but against Hamas, a terrorist group that has no interest in peace and wants to see the Jewish state annihilated.

“I don’t want people to die, but I can’t let a terrorist knock down my door and murder my people,” Borvick said. “Unfortunately Hamas wants their people to die … and we do everything we can to not kill innocent people.”

‘Just really heartbreaking’

Another student Alejandra Betancourt, a senior studying political science, stood as she watched the pro-Palestinian protesters chant. She wasn’t a part of the group, but she said she supports the cause.

“It’s nice to see our students coming together, especially after having such a hard semester last semester,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to see this. I think it’s getting more urgent and with other colleges pretty much doing it all together.”

Palestinians have a right to self-determination, she said, adding that claims that the group is antisemitic are false propaganda.

“It is just really heartbreaking,” Betancourt said. “It’s just very overwhelming, but I think it’s something that needs to be done to show support and solidarity for the voices of Palestine that don’t have any access right now.”

‘Passionate but civil’

The protest on UNLV’s campus remained peaceful and ended around 2 p.m., with pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups dispersing after only shouts were exchanged over the course of the walkout. One event organizer went around and picked up stray water bottles left behind on the amphitheater.

In a statement, UNLV said its policy on Speech and Advocacy outlines the expectations the university has for its community relative to supporting and allowing free speech, and it has a clear policy on the use of outdoor areas.

“Today, students and members of the community at-large came to campus to exercise their first amendment right of free speech and assembly, expressing their views in a passionate, but civil manner on the war in Israel and Gaza,” the university said in a statement.

UNLV recognizes statements representing different ideologies can be hurtful and cause distress to different groups, and it rejects any statement that is antisemitic or Islamophobic, the university said.

“We will continue to work with specific affinity groups on campus to help ensure our university policies are followed and continue our dialogue to hear different perspectives on this complex issue,” UNLV said in the statement.

Protests on campuses across the country

Recent nationwide campus protests began at Columbia University, with a series of occupation protests taking place on campus, with pro-Palestinian students creating encampments to protest Israel’s offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched a deadly attack in Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

The United Nations has also called for a ceasefire, urging the parties to allow for humanitarian access, release hostages and avoid the “collective punishment.”

On Tuesday, protests on college campuses escalated. New York City police officers entered Columbia’s campus after the university requested help. They cleared a tent encampment, along with Hamilton Hall where a stream of officers used a ladder to climb through a second-floor window. Protesters had seized the Ivy League school building about 20 hours earlier.

Some 40 protesters at Columbia were arrested Tuesday after shrugging off an earlier ultimatum to abandon the encampment Monday or face suspension, inspiring demonstrations on campuses elsewhere.

Dueling groups of protesters at the University of California, Los Angeles clashed overnight Tuesday, shoving, kicking and beating each other with sticks after pro-Israel demonstrators tried to pull down barricades surrounding a pro-Palestinian encampment.

After a couple of hours of scuffles between demonstrators at UCLA, police wearing helmets and face shields slowly separated the groups and quelled the violence. The scene was calm as day broke.

On Tuesday, Brown University reached an agreement with protesters on its Rhode Island campus. Demonstrators said they would close their encampment if administrators consider divestment from Israel in October — apparently the first time a U.S. college has agreed to protester demands to vote on divestment.

On Wednesday evening, police at FGordham Univdrsity in New York City and at UCLA appeared to possibly removing protesters.

Amid those protests on college campuses, the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would mandate the Department of Education to use the broad definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to enforce Federal antidiscrimination laws concerning educational programs and activities.

The bill passed in a 320-91 vote, with 21 Republicans and 70 Democrats against it. Those oppose it worry it could impede on free speech. It will now go before the Senate.

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Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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