The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

SJP Holds Mother’s Day Rally for Rafah

Carly Philpott
Students, faculty and community members marched on May 12 from Hathorn Hall to Maine Representative Jared Golden’s residence protesting Israel’s invasion of Rafah.

Calls like “Free, Free Palestine,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “End the killing, stop war crimes, get Israel out of Palestine” echoed from Hathorn Hall to Maine Representative Jared Golden’s residence as Bates students, faculty and community members protested in solidarity with Palestinians suffering in Rafah on May 12.

In Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, tens of thousands of Palestinians are seeking refuge after the Israeli military bombarded the city and seized a nearby border crossing into Egypt. This seizure has limited aid coming into Gaza, resulting in large-scale hunger, mass evacuations and health crises. 

This Mother’s Day, the Bates chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organized a “Rally for Rafah,” meant to bring awareness to the recent unrest in the Gazan city and to be in community and solidarity with Palestinians, according to SJP Secretary Poppy Marsh ‘26.

“A point of having [the rally] on campus is to really be public with our outstanding support for Rafah and our commitment to the disclosure of the school’s investments,” they said. Marsh added that the push for Bates to disclose its public divestments is “going to stay in our minds and at the front of our minds when we’re protesting or doing action.”

The protest commenced on the steps of Hathorn Hall with a welcome from SJP officers and speeches from students and faculty. SJP member began by speaking on SJP’s foundation at Bates, its formation a response to the suffering of Palestinian people following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

SJP member gives a speech at the rally on May 12.
(Carly Philpott)

SJP member emphasized the power of student activism and the purpose of the gathering. “Think of today as an attempt to keep our sanity to not succumb to the normalization of the atrocities of what’s happening in Gaza and so that after 218 days, we’re still not desensitized. And that, my friends, is the strongest form of resistance,” he said. 

Following his speech, SJP Co-President Bissan Kablawi ‘26 spoke about the Nakba, a term in Arabic that refers to the expulsion and displacement of thousands of Palestinians from their homes by the Israeli military during the Arab-Israeli war. She connected the historical violence between Israel and Palestinians to the current violence and humanitarian crisis in Rafah. “This is the violence through which Israel was founded. Israel is not committing another Nakba because the Nakba never ended,” Kablawi said.

She went on to assert that since her arrival at Bates two years ago, she has observed a concerning lack of support for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students. “The administration has proved that they do not care,” she asserted. 

Kablawi concluded with a call for action from Bates administration. “We ask for full disclosure on Bates public investments. Following that, we demand full divestment from Israeli companies or companies with direct ties to Israel. We will not help Biden fund this genocide.”

The Rally for Rafah follows two meetings between SJP officers and Vice President for Finance and Administration Geoff Swift concerning Bates’ endowment. In their most recent meeting, Kablawi reported that SJP provided Swift with a list of specific companies for him to research, determining if Bates has public investments in them.

“We’re not asking for something impossible,” she said, highlighting the diligent research SJP had done to determine what they could fairly request from the college. 

Next, Professor of English and Africana Studies Dr. Therí Pickens spoke on the rally’s connection to Mother’s Day, emphasizing the thousands of Gazan mothers and children who will not live to fulfill these roles. Dr. Pickens continued, highlighting the importance of art, education and the community of faculty committed to supporting student activism.

“Our power is stronger together. Our power is magnified by the resilience of our resistance. We who believe in freedom will not rest,” she concluded. 

Then, Mohammad Zayd ‘27 spoke about the similarities between Judaism and Islam, asserting that the Israel-Palestine conflict is wrongly understood as a religious conflict. Zayd underscored the significance of the 155 UNESCO heritage sites destroyed during Israeli air strikes saying, “This destruction is an erasure of Gaza’s heritage, proving that the Israeli government does not discriminate between religions. This should be enough proof that this is not a religion versus religion war; this isn’t another crusade.”

“You do not need to be a Muslim to stand for Gaza; you just need to be human,” Zayd added. 

Assistant Professor of Politics Dr. Lucy Britt then spoke about the particular grief of Jewish Americans witnessing the mass violence in Gaza, emphasizing the importance of collective action in standing up against such violence. 

“Many Jewish Americans, myself included, are feeling a particular kind of grief; the grief that comes from watching mass violence happen anywhere in the world which, because of the moral imperative that emerged from the Shoah, creates a solidarity that many people around the world feel, but that Jews are taught, in particular, to feel in connection with the atrocities of Auschwitz,” she said. Adding that “Never again should mean never again for everyone.”

After a land acknowledgement and a reiteration of the rally’s safety guidelines that emphasized the peaceful nature of the protest, participants began marching behind a banner reading, “Eyes on Rafah.” 

As protesters made their way to Golden’s residence, passing cars honked in support while neighbors emerged from their homes to watch the demonstration go by, some cheering or raising their fists in solidarity. 

Upon the demonstration’s arrival at Congressman Golden’s house, a community member approached his door and knocked, attaching a flyer to his door when he didn’t answer. The flyer, which was also distributed to his neighbors, detailed the history of Mother’s Day, highlighting its formation as a day of peace. “Mother’s Day began in 1872 as an appeal for women to unite for peace when Julia Ward Howe issued the first ‘Mother’s Day Proclamation,’” the handout stated.  

The handout went on to implore neighbors to reconsider Golden’s representation, highlighting his votes in favor of sending U.S. aid to Israel and his top campaign contributor being the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

When asked about why he was participating in the protest, Nick Gajarski ‘24 said, “I think it’s important that we support Palestine and we shouldn’t ignore genocide in Gaza. Regardless of where you stand, people are dying. Standing with Palestine is standing with humanity and human rights.”

Other students found their way to the protest through support for their friends. “I’m really proud of my friends who put hours and hours of work into this. I’m here for Palestine and here for them,” Lee Kenney ‘26 said. 

Eisa Rafat ‘25, a Bowdoin student, expressed a similar reason for joining the protest. Rafat is an organizer for Bowdoin’s SJP chapter and wanted to show the same support that Bates students did for their protest earlier this year and their recently passed solidarity referendum.

When asked about what she hopes will result from the protest, Marisol Cortez ‘24 responded, “I hope Bates chooses to divest and release the names and close the study abroad programs it has in Israel and educates and stresses to its students why it’s important to stand up for humanity and the world no matter what U.S politics says about the issue, that we can think for ourselves and realize that the root of this issue is not politics itself but the failure of Americans to recognize the violations of human rights that they are committing through their tax dollars and the people they allow to get into office and to run for office that are part in these international law violations. This is about human rights.”

Many community members also joined the protest. Jamila, a Waldo, ME resident, drove down to Lewiston to participate in this rally. She reported that she has been traveling all over the state, doing something “every single day” to support and stand in solidarity with Palestine. “I can’t think of anything else except what’s happening in Palestine,” she said. 

As she marched, she held a shrouded “baby,” meant to represent the mass killings of children in Palestine. Coming from a family of Jewish holocaust survivors, she views Jewish support as particularly important to this issue. “Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism,” she added. 

Meredith Bruskin traveled  from Belfast to show support for the student protest. “The strongest voices– the student voices– are going to run the world. I need to be part of that voice,” she said.

Outside Golden’s house, Tim Paradis, a representative from Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights detailed the ways in which Golden is “on the wrong side” of issues concerning “the humanity of Palestinians” and “the abuse of power by Israel,” according to his statement. 

Paradis cited Golden’s co-sponorship of House resolutions that both censured the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling that Israel was “plausibly committing a genocide” and that ceased US funding for the UN agency providing aid to Gaza, UNWRA.

Paradis concluded by inviting protesters to appear at the Maine Democratic Party Convention on May 31 to directly engage with Representative Golden. 

Following Paradis, Ifraax Saciid, a community participant, expressed her sincere thanks for Bates students’ action. She added that she had tried since October to form a community partnership with Bates, reaching out to the Harward Center to organize action in solidarity with Palestine. A Lewiston resident who emigrated from Somalia, Saciid emphasized the importance of standing up against mass violence, having been seven years old when a civil war broke out in Somalia. 

Saciid recounted how during his campaign Representative Golden convinced her and her community members that he would represent their interests, visiting their mosques and stores. “We all voted for him,” Saciid said. “Then he went to Washington.”

When asked what she hopes participants take away from the protest, Kablawi answered, “I think there’s a lot of quietness on campus. So, first and foremost, I hope this gets discussions going on. I hope this raises awareness right now, but I also hope that it can get people to join the movement.”

“We are being very peaceful and very factual with what we want and what is happening, and I think with that layer of safety comes support as well,” she added.

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    Blair FrankMay 16, 2024 at 12:07 PM

    Literally the word hostage does not appear in this article. No mention of the 10/7 murders and rapes that started this Israeli response. “This is the violence through which Israel was founded.” Do any of the identity based history courses at Bates teach that it was the Arabs who initiated the 1948 war. They had the numbers and thought they could erase the Jews. They lost. That’s called losing a war not a Nakba. The Nakba historically refers to the humiliation endured by the Palestinians after losing and being expelled. You are at a college. Use your time there to dig a little deeper, find new understandings instead of #cancelling Jewish community members with a chant like From the River To the Sea.