Is it too much to call for a cease fire?
URSJP activism contrasts with U of R University Council tabling of motion
In 1997, Nelson Mandela emphasized the interconnectedness of freedom in a speech for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
This day, observed annually on November 29, was established in 1947 when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution to partition Palestine into two states. The UN states that the day provides an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remains unresolved.
The Palestinian people have yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly, namely, the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced.
In prepared written replies to the Carillon, University of Regina Students for Justice in Palestine (URSJP) co-presidents, Batoul Abouelela and Sarah Sattar, discussed the day and the club’s related activism. To them, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People signifies a “reaffirmation of our steadfast support for Palestinian human rights and freedom.” To this end, they explain that URSJP’s goal is “to advocate for the freedom of Palestine, […] to advocate for justice, to inform and educate on the current situation, and the history of Palestine.”
On December 2, CBC News reported on the current situation. More than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s nearly two-month long assault on Palestine. Israeli forces continue to destroy civilians in their single-minded pursuit of the Hamas leaders responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel in which 1,200 people were killed.
The URSJP have been active in raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Palestine. On November 2, they organized a peaceful walkout on campus that garnered significant support from faculty members, staff, and students.
Commitment to advocacy continued with another student walkout for Gaza on November 23. Reflecting on the support for the event, the co-presidents said that “the turnout was solid, attended by students of various backgrounds, united in grief and a shared vision of a free Palestine.”
“We did tabling in Riddell throughout the week, handed out flyers, and spread the word through social media. Many SJP members did the honourable hard work of writing down the names of the murdered Palestinians throughout the week. It was an emotional and heartbreaking process to visually look at the huge banner filled with names of people. People with families, futures, and dreams.”
The November 23 walkout wrapped up with a solemn banner drop, featuring the 5,000+ civilians who lost their lives to the butchery within only 18 days.
Regarding the banner, Abouelela and Sattar stated: “As was said during the walkout, it took us more time to write those names than for them [the Palestinian individuals] to get killed. The few seconds it takes for a bomb or missile to drop and completely wipe out everything is nothing compared to the hours, days actually, it took for dozens of students to come together and fill that banner up.”
“The fact [is] that these 5,700 names were only from October 7 to October 25, 18 days. […] this is merely a fraction of the current death toll.”
“Naming the injustices for what they are, as it is not merely a conflict or a war, it’s an ongoing genocide and an illegal occupation as stated by Amnesty International and the UN. […] At the end of the day, we must acknowledge that advocating for human rights should not be controversial,” said Abouelela and Sattar.
University of Regina (U of R) staff member Seba AbdulKareem expressed appreciation for the activist platform supported by U of R, stating, “I think the U of R has consistently showed solidarity with the Palestinian people, and it’s been really heartwarming to be in a place where we could openly stand up […] without fearing repercussions.”
However, the Carillon asks: is the university doing enough? As an academic and research institution that stands with the motto “As One Who Serves,” and who welcomes students and researchers from all parts of the world, the university leadership should be committed to modeling international activism for its student body, not just allowing it. Rather, what we see here is quite the reverse: the students are actively modeling for the institution.
Consider this: a University of Regina Council meeting was called for December 1, in part to decide on an Item for Consideration by Council, titled “Conflict in Gaza.”
Submitted on November 17 by Dr. Michelle Stewart, Dr. Simon Granovsky-Larsen, and Dr. Emily Eaton, this was a motion “that Council recommend to the President that the University of Regina join others around the world in making a public statement calling for an immediate cease fire in Gaza.”
Taken from the Council meeting agenda, the rationale for the motion was this: “Gaza is home to over 2 million residents. These residents have been subject to ongoing military action for over one month resulting in the deaths of over 11 thousand civilians. Media reports indicate military action by Israel is targeting ambulances, places of worship, neighborhoods, and water sources. Schools and hospitals have also been targeted where displaced families and individuals had sought refuge from the bombings. Solar and electrical sources have been targeted as have media outlets. The siege on Gaza has included road and border closures which impacts movement of individuals and has dire implications for receiving humanitarian aid. The United Nations and the International Criminal Court suggest Israel may be guilty of inciting genocide and committing war crimes.”
The rationale continues: “International aid organizations are predicting a complete collapse of the food systems as access to fuel and supplies has led to widespread hunger and risk of starvation for residents still in Gaza. The combined lack of clean water, shelter, and food demands attention and action of individuals and institutions around the world.”
However, even with the increasing urgency to publicly join international calls for a cease fire, the U of R Council tabled the motion. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, tabling a motion means that a decision was not reached following debate, and the issue was put aside until a future meeting.
In contrast, when explaining how activism can be supported in our community, Abouelela and Sattar said, “Speak up! Silence is too costly. To be silent in the face of genocide is to support genocide. This is not the time to look away. Talk to your community about Palestine.”
“It is crucial for the university community to first and foremost learn for themselves, then join any larger movements that we facilitate. […] People need to acknowledge that the current situation [in Palestine] is unacceptable, and that every single person on earth has a crucial role to play in advocating for justice.”