UTRGV students demand ceasefire, boycotts on Israel as more Palestinians are killed
On Tuesday, around 100 students and residents at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) protested against Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians while attempting to eliminate members of Hamas.
The students marched through the university’s Edinburg campus and called on local officials to demand a ceasefire between Israel and the militant wing of Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
According to Israel’s foreign ministry, Hamas killed 1,200 people during the attack, mostly civilians. In response, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have moved troops into Gaza to hunt down the militants. They have killed more than 16,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, through airstrikes and ground offensives, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
IDF, when using airstrikes, are using artificial intelligence systems to target Hamas members. But the system is likely indiscriminately killing civilians in the process, according to a report from the Guardian.
The protest was co-organized by two students, Narcedalia Anaya Barbosa and Zeina Qubbaj, who led the march through the Edinburg campus’ “Bronc’ Trail,” the main walkway connecting the buildings to each other.
The march concluded where it started, outside of the university library, where the organizers called on students to boycott products and services from companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney for their support of Israel or Israeli organizations.
Qubbaj, who is Palestinian, said the impetus for protest came from the realization that people outside of Palestine can disconnect from the violence they view on social media, but Palestinians inside experiencing it cannot.
“We're at a point of being really privileged where we could just see it through our phones,” Qubbaj told TPR at the end of the demonstration. “And you would think because of this social media presence that more people would be aware. But there's still people that aren't. So we have to keep talking about it.”
Tuesday’s march through UTRGV was one of several demonstrations advocating for Palestine to happen in the Rio Grande Valley since October. Barbosa said she was happy to see people support Palestinians, which is a cause that has come with academic and workplace retaliation across the U.S.
“We are glad that so many people were actually taking part of their times, taking a little bit of a risk and coming here and speaking their voices,” Barbosa said. “In the end, it's for a good cause. It's to stop people from dying.”
Students chanted and held posters with phrases that connected the struggles of the Rio Grande Valley and Palestine, along with accusing Israel of genocide.
In November, United Nations (UN) experts warned that Palestinians faced a possible genocide if a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was not met. On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter to urge the Security Council to act on a ceasefire resolution. Barbosa said this risk should be seen as a universally humanitarian issue.
“This is not complicated. They make it seem like it is. They make it seem like it's religious and it's a political issue,” she said. “People are being killed. There's a massacre where one side cannot defend themselves. And I think that that transcends everything else.”
The demonstration ended with attendees posting comments on Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz’s latest Instagram post, demanding the official call for a ceasefire. De La Cruz's district includes UTRGV and is running for re-election. She has been staunchly pro-Israel since the Oct. 7 attack.
De La Cruz, along with Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, another Rio Grande Valley representative, were among several lawmakers to sign a resolution in October condemning Hamas and supporting Israel. De La Cruz’s McAllen office was defaced with spray paint days later, which she attributed to “pro-Hamas activists,” that said she supported genocide.
UTRGV officials told TPR they had no comment on the protest other than that the students were within their rights to demonstrate and that the university is a public space.