Bomb and peace sign

We constantly hear the media and officials refer to the OSU student encampment as “pro-Palestinian.” We counter by suggesting it should be called a peace movement by students simply asking that, as stakeholders in the university, their tuition money is not spent to kill innocent civilians. Their message is consistent – demanding the college divest from Israel because the money is funding the war in Gaza and the West Bank. National news repeat the phrase “pro-Palestinian” when referring to encampment sites at other universities all over the country.

As activists on the street protesting US involvement in the first Gulf War in 1992 and the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, we have no recollection that any media or officials assumed we were fans of Saddam or the Taliban. No one called our rallies “pro-Iraqi” protests.

The media and others characterize the movement as “pro-Palestinian” because there is a propensity, by accident or design, to assume students are protesting because they either hate Israel, are anti-semitic, or (most disturbing) support Hamas.

Based on interviews and sentiments we have heard, the protesters want a ceasefire. They hate that OSU is funding death and destruction, are anti-war, and are on the side of protecting the innocent. Those who care about saving innocent lives could be called pro-humanitarian, pro-morality, pro-peace or pro-protecting the people of Palestine who are being attacked and killed.

It appears that for most, it is not a religious or ethnicity-based decision to join one of the peace rallies that have been occurring since the Hamas attack in October. We hope that any human being on this planet seeing the apocalypse in Gaza and the West Bank would be horrified and want it to stop. It is ridiculous to assume that the students who feel that way would, for some reason, simultaneously harbor hatred and wish violence upon others just because they are Jewish.

We notice nearly all news stories include an interview with a Jewish student who feels “unsafe” on campus. Assuming the “pro-Palestinian” protesters were plotting some kind of destructive revenge against random Jewish students on campus (can you tell they are Jewish by looking? We’re not sure) the administration asked police to clear out the encampment. There was no violence or conflict at the OSU demonstration until police got involved. Columbus police viciously ripping apart students’ tents, throwing people on the ground and violently arresting students can be seen on YouTube videos by the AP and the Guardian. Very little of the Columbus Police’s excessively forceful actions could be found on local channels 4, 6 10 or Spectrum News.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the recent reaction to the OSU peace encampment was a Lantern article noting that police snipers were poised with rifles on the Ohio Union roof, aimed at students.

It’s nearly May 4, the anniversary of the Ohio National Guard murdering four and injuring nine students at Kent State as a result of a crackdown on anti-war protesting on college campuses. Unfortunately this seminal event is hardly recognized by younger generations but they should be aware their own government is not adverse to killing people to get their way.

The national anti-Vietnam War student movement spread across the country in 1970 then, just like the encampments are now. OSU was the site of many peace protests, resulting in 60 injuries, seven gunshot wounds, and close to 300 arrests, as reported in the Columbus Dispatch. The college was barricaded and shut down by the National Guard and many witnesses stated that it was a police infiltrator who started the trouble. Others involved at Kent State at that time also claim that it was non-student, outside people who were likely police infiltrators who caused the so-called plot to commit arson there, that prompted Governor Rhodes to call in the Guard.

Younger generations must be aware that the government are also not adverse to creating “false flags” to get their way. Watch for alleged Hamas supporters at these peace rallies or attacks on Jewish students – who are the people involved, really?

Apparently supporting and promoting peace and the disinvestment of money into war has always been a dire threat to the establishment. After all, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy and John Lennon happened suspiciously after they each became stridently anti-war. Obviously, the military industrial complex can’t thrive without war.  But a college campus should be able to survive in a peaceful world. However, one of the most prolific donors to Israel – and to OSU – is Les Wexner. How does this connection fit into the decisions made by the university administration about divestment and treatment of the student protest?

Interestingly there is actually precedent of a protest encampment in Columbus that was also peaceful and remained so without police intervention.

People gathered on the Ohio Statehouse sidewalk in 2011 to call attention to wealth disparity in the US. Occupy Columbus – where the 99 percent pointed out how our economic system is not working for anyone but the 1 percent-- lasted for 335 days, one of the longest in the nation, with tents and some Occupiers staying overnight for months without being expelled. As the Columbus Free Press reported, “Even [then-] Mayor Michael Coleman did a walk-through at the first Statehouse demonstration offering encouragement and support for the movement. Of course the movement was occupying the Statehouse, not City Hall, and the urban mayors had yet to take their anti-Occupy stance.” There was a version of Occupy at Ohio State too.

Like the recent student encampments, Occupy was part of a large national movement that began in New York City as Occupy Wall Street and spread to cities across the nation. We did witness police brutality against Occupy Wall Street protesters, but here in Columbus they were surprisingly tolerated. The only arrests happened when protesters entered a local bank to  confront them. Finally, in fall of 2012, the city of Columbus altered the permitting rules for using a public sidewalk. That put an end to the occupation.

Occupy Columbus certainly helped call attention to socio-economic disparities and it could be argued that the “Fight for $15” and living wage movements are a result. Anti-war demonstrations from the Vietnam War to Iraq War put pressure on public officials to end wars, but admittedly never stopped US participation and instigation of violence abroad. The demand for divestment could be an important approach in the current movement. The student divestment movement in the 1980s to halt apartheid in South Africa was a key factor to creating the needed changes. It’s interesting to note that due to student protest, Columbia University – notorious in the news for having the first arrests at a current peace encampment – was the first Ivy League university to divest from South Africa.

The term “pro-Palestinian” is a convenient way to promote a narrative that there are two sides to the issue of this near-genocide in our time. We suggest the two sides are merely “war” or “peace.” Ask the media to change their lingo and complicity in dividing us. They must listen to what the student protesters are actually saying – ceasefire, divestment, stop the killing – and call it a peace movement.