Chris Schulz Published

WVU Students, Community March For Palestine Again

A group congregates on the lawn in front of a three story building with a clock tower at its center. It is a bright, sunny day with a blue sky and wispy white clouds. At the far right of the crowd two people hold a Palestinian flag. Closer to the foreground and apart from the crowd stands a family around a stroller.
Protestors gather in Woodburn Circle on West Virginia University's downtown Morgantown campus before marching on High Street Saturday May 11, 2024
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Students at West Virginia University’s Morgantown campus demonstrated in support of Palestine for the second time in as many weeks.

Amidst students in graduation regalia taking family photos, close to 100 protesters gathered in front of WVU’s Woodburn Hall Saturday evening.

Forecasted rain did not deter the crowd from marching through downtown Morgantown chanting.

Omar Sabbagh is the president-elect of the Muslim Student Association, which organized Saturday’s march. 

“We’re here to support the Palestinians,” he said. “35,000 plus civilians have been killed. That is a lowball estimate because people are under the rubble. People are injured in critical conditions and we’re here against that genocide. Israel is indiscriminately bombing, killing civilians in Gaza. We want them to stop not tomorrow, but right now.”

South Africa accused Israel of committing a genocide in the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, claims which are currently being adjudicated.

The group published an open letter to university administration Friday asking them to take action against anti-Arab harassment on campus, as well as disclosure and divestment of any investments involving the Israeli government or Israeli companies, amongst other demands.

“We also want to send a message to our to our elected representatives, that we will not stay silent, that we are against this genocide, and they need as our elected officials to do what we demand because we’re the ones that elect them.”

In their letter to the university, students give administrators until May 16, this coming Thursday to respond.

A letter on West Virginia University letterhead reads: Good morning, On behalf of students at large, we are requesting a disclosure of WVU investments. As students, we would like to know where our money is going and where our university places its priorities, especially with recent budget cuts and an increase in our tuition. As students, we are entitled to this information. Although WVU receives its funds from federal, state and a mixture of outside and private resources, we are interested in outside and private funds, including the WVU Foundation. We are requesting a full disclosure of the investments and expenditures of these funds, as well as the source of these funds. Continuing, we have a list of demands from students who have been advocating for justice and peace campus-wide, nationwide, and globally, especially regarding the recent events in Palestine. These demands also come from students directly affected by the atrocities in Gaza, and those who support them. The ongoing crisis in Gaza by Israel, where over 42,000 Palestinians, including 15,000 children, have been killed since October 7th, 2023, in an undeniable tragedy. Palestine has been under occupation and terror for over 75 years, and today, that tragedy continues. We condemn Israel’s actions and the ongoing genocide. Any funding or investments to companies that profit off Israeli companies, or from the Palestinian occupation is a crime. This is common among many major universities, and it is our job as students to hold our universities accountable for any complicity. A failure to respond or to meet demands will result in full exercise of our First Amendment rights, including peaceful protest and disruptive action. We anticipate your response by Thursday, May 16th.
A portion of the letter published by the Muslim Student Association of West Virginia University on their Instagram Friday, May 10, 2024. Courtesy of the WVU MSU via Instagram
The continuation of a letter on West Virginia University letterhead reads: Our demands are as follows: 1. Take action against anti-Islamic, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab harassment and discrimination faced on campus. WVU Student Engagement, SEL, and WVU Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities are aware of the harassment faced, no solidified action has been taken against it. 2. Issue a public statement against the killing of innocent Palestinian women, children, the elderly, men and aid workers in Gaza. 3. Issue a public statement for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the call for humanitarian and medical aid to enter Gaza. 4. End the Foreign Exchange program from and to Israel through The Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. 5. Disclose any investments involving the Israeli government or Israeli companies, and/or profit off the Palestinian occupation, directly or indirectly. 6. Disclose any investments and partnerships with weapon manufacturers. 7. Divest in any companies profiting off the Israeli government and/or the occupation of Palestine Including but not limited to: a. Starbucks b. Sabra c. CocaCola
A portion of the letter published by the Muslim Student Association of West Virginia University on their Instagram Friday, May 10, 2024. Courtesy of the WVU MSU via Instagram

WVU student Olivia Dowler also helped organize the event the day before her graduation. 

“I am ethnically, culturally Jewish,” she said. “And since the beginning of this, it has definitely been horrifying to see people saying it’s, like, in our name, almost, like on behalf of Jewish people when it’s really not. Like we faced the Holocaust. And they said, ‘Never again.’ And that means never again, for anybody.”

Dowler said she will continue to support student actions even after she leaves campus, and hoped the demonstration helps keep attention on the violence in Gaza and Rafa.

“I hope it spreads a lot of awareness to everybody around because you can turn away on social media, you can turn off the news, but you can’t really turn off this whole big group of people in front of you,” she said. 

The protest also drew community members such as Maria Kahn, who came to the protest with her three-month-old son. 

“I think about the mothers in Palestine every day, the parents every day, and the children every day, and what they go through, and it’s just unfathomable to me,” she said. “Every time I think about it, I almost break down. I just, it’s very hard to deal with. So I mean, anything we can do to help them.”

Kahn said she wants her child to know his parents were passionate for the causes they support.

“I just feel it’s really like, civic duty for me,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world and the average person doesn’t think that they have any power whatsoever to change it. But I’m trying to do wherever I can and that’s what everyone else is doing over here.”

A bronze statue of actor Don Knotts sits in front of a red brick building. Behind Knotts' head can be seen two small Palestinian flags held by a smiling woman wearing a hijab. A crowd stretches on behind her, and another Palestinian flag can be seen in the background.
Demonstrators walk past a statue of Don Knotts in downtown Morgantown May 11, 2024.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting