Since the October 7th invasion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has emerged as one of the most prominently visible and discussed issues among University of Iowa students. On Saturday, November 4th, at 1pm, students with flags, signs, and megaphones began to organize in front of Iowa’s historic Old Capital Building in support of Palestine, and protest the American support of Israel.
The event featured two groups attempting to make their concerns heard. A sympathetic and pro-Palestinian majority, and a pro-Israeli minority. The protest featured many slogans and speakers, but some of the most prominent and consistent themes revolved around war crimes, American involvement, and Palestinian statehood. Specifically “from the river to the sea”, which insinuates a Palestinian state consisting of pre-1947 borders.
This slogan became a focal point of the pro-Israel protesters who considered it a statement of violence. The stakes of the statements made resulted in a supposed schism involving verbal altercations, including slurs and calls for self harm. I was able to speak to a wide variety of individuals representing both sides of this conflict, these are their voices.
Image via Amman Hassan
One of the most interesting people present at the event was Kolet, the aunt of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist, who was murdered by an Israeli Bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza in 2003. Kolet has been working with Iowans for Palestine ever since. I asked her what her response was to the attacks and what an American response should look like. She responded by stating, “I don’t have a right to tell Israelis or Palestinians how to live their lives, but as an American, I believe it’s our responsibility to stand when we see things that are wrong, and that’s why I’m here. I would like them to call for a ceasefire and do what we’ve done in multiple other conflicts, which is to airdrop aid in Gaza. It’s not just (Joe) Biden, it’s (Antony) Blinken, it’s the state department, it’s the whole American government that’s responsible. This war did not start October 7th of 2023.”
Other individuals I spoke to were Mike Josephson, and his associate Newman Abuissa. The former is a Palestinian immigrant, who has lived in Iowa City for almost 50 years, and is the latter is the founder of the St. Raphael Orthodox Church. “The president’s response is disgraceful,” Josephson said. “Most people, when they do research, understand why what’s happening is wrong. The power of the media, the top one percent, and the Israeli lobby have outsized influence on our government. It boils down to respect and dignity of the human beings in Palestine. Before Israel, Palestine accommodated everybody. America must call for a cease fire and abide by international law.” Abuissa also commented on his involvement with the Iowa Democrats, and disappointment with Rita Hart’s condemnation of University of Iowa Democrats on the basis of antisemitism.
Image via Amman Hassan
One notable individual at the protest was Max, a resident of Iowa city who centered himself at the protest with an Israeli flag and megaphone defending the Jewish state and condemning the protesters. “October 7th was an eye opener that jews were being targeted. Israel has a right to defend itself, just like in 9/11.” I pressed Max on the 9/11 comparison and he acknowledged the long and ultimately negative consequences of the American response. However, he didn’t seem to apply similar logic to the Israeli reaction, calling for a strong military response. “I believe Israel should get rid of Hamas. These people were gunned down. Antisemitism has been rampant. People need to understand that they were killed for being Jewish. Without Israel, where would jews go?”
I also spoke to some of the other pro-Israel demonstrators, one of which who said they were a first year student at the University of Iowa, and a former exchange student and EMT in Israel. When speaking with them, it became evident that the focus of their interests and many of their pro-Israeli peers present, were those of antisemitism and violence. “I came here because I was scared. I wanted to make sure I didn’t see an Israeli flag getting burned. My friend’s from my gap year have been beaten up for holding up Israeli signs. I need to see if that’s happening on this campus so I know if I should go home for a while. The chants from the river to the sea really scare me. I’m very worried about it, and I’m very scared.”
Image via Amman Hassan
Despite their worries over anti semitic violence, they shared some sympathies for the Palestinian cause stating “I hope they will oust Hamas, get rid of them, and we could end the fighting. I want the fighting to end, I want to live side by side with them. They are amazing people. They are the same as me and you. Oust BB (Netanyahu). Get rid of the right wing government, they are horrible. Fix the systemic racism in Israel. Keep doing what you’re doing. Make sure Iran and Hezbollah don’t get involved. I promote aid being sent to the Palestinian people, just to make sure it doesn’t get to Hamas.”
After the speakers had all took their turns, the protesters began to march around the business district of downtown until circling back to the capital, where they got signatures, informed those present of how to get involved, and ultimately dissipated peacefully.