As we enter the fourth month of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the death toll in the besieged enclave has climbed to more than 27,000, with nearly 67,000 people wounded. Two million have been displaced. At the same time, youth calling for a ceasefire have increasingly mobilized across the United States.
Some young activists say they’ve grown up witnessing the deliberate failure of various institutions within their lifetime. Despite cynicism being the easiest option, Nashwa Bawab, a leader with the U.S. branch of the Palestinian Youth Movement, emphasizes that youth are not as apathetic as they’re often portrayed. “It’s usually the youth who are the most excited and taking the streets,” Bawab told Truthout. “The Palestinian struggle is an intergenerational struggle, and [youth] are not afraid to carry that torch forward. Especially Palestinian and Arab youth, [who] have taken on this role because they feel a sense of duty.”
Palestinian youth have been particularly crucial in correcting a distorted media narrative that Bawab says has been used for decades to manufacture consent for wars, and to dehumanize Palestinians so that the persistent abuses inflicted upon them are either hidden or elicit feelings of indifference rather than outrage by the general public. “Young people are making the correct connection to the media narrative that’s on display right now and how that builds a cover for the aggression and genocide against Palestinians,” Bawab said.
We’ve watched young journalists — like Motaz Azaiza, Bisan Owda, Plestia Alaqad and even 9-year-old Lama Jamous — and so many others emerge as agents of truth for Palestine by chronicling in real time the genocide on platforms like Instagram and X. Not only do their courageous testimonies directly challenge the inhumane and indifferent depictions of Palestinians in the corporate media today, but their calls for action — including general strikes called for by Bisan — have been the source of mass mobilizations everywhere.
“I think it’s very easy to get distracted when we rely on the analysis being produced in the West and in the imperial core,” Kaleem Hawa, another leader with the U.S. branch of the Palestinian Youth movement, told Truthout. “[Palestinians and Arabs] in the region provide a wealth of knowledge and revolutionary history to draw from to help us to clarify what’s happening and to put the current moment in a broader historical context of settler colonialism in Palestine.”
Organizers say that youth anchoring their global resistance to this wealth of knowledge is what has allowed their various movements to flourish. From organizing student walkouts and vigils to marches and direct actions, “what we see happening now is really the fruits of the Palestinian movement’s labor for the past 10-15 years … from students, to labor unionists, and everyone else,” Bawab said.
A number of powerful demonstrations have disrupted the status quo already this year. Just last week, a coalition of students with DMV Dissenters, the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Occupation Free DC campaign blocked off several intersections near federal buildings as a way to disrupt the commutes of White House, congressional and State Department staff. And recently community members and youth organized a staggered disruption of President Joe Biden’s abortion rights rally in Virginia. Lily Song, a senior at American University who is involved with DMV Dissenters, recounted her experience interrupting Biden’s speech. “I got up and shouted, ‘Pregnant people in Gaza are having C-sections without anesthesia!’ And in a rally talking about reproductive rights and women’s autonomy over their bodies, I just felt like if you actually support these things you would support the disruption of a president who’s literally funding genocide,” Song told Truthout.
In January, an estimated 300,000 people demanding a ceasefire gathered in D.C. for the March on Washington for Gaza. That same month, community members and youth began camping outside of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s northern Virginia home to bring their demands for a ceasefire to his doorstep.
In the Bay Area, more than 3,000 workers and community members blocked off the Port of Oakland to demand an immediate end to the siege on Gaza. As a result, the port — which has been targeted for action by Palestinian activists before for its history of shipping weaponry — was completely shut down, with more than 200 scheduled jobs paused. And in New York, anti-militarist youth led the charge, with students blocking all entrances to the Bank of New York headquarters to demand that they close their “Friends of the IDF” fund and divest from weapons manufacturing companies like Raytheon and Boeing.
It’s students like these who have organized on their campuses, highlighting the active ways in which their schools contribute to the genocide. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for example, students developed a petition demanding that the university remove the name of former Israeli Prime Minister and UW graduate Golda Meir from their campus library. Led by a coalition for Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim Students Association, and Students for a Democratic Society UW, students are also calling for the university to divest from weapon manufacturers that aid the Palestinian genocide and to end all study abroad trips to Israel.
At the University of Michigan, students disrupted the school’s career fair which welcomed recruiters representing various military and weapons manufacturing companies. Meanwhile, at Brown University, a coalition of Palestinian and Jewish students have implemented a hunger strike, demanding the university cut ties with its most lucrative investments, including weapons manufacturing companies Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. According to these students, hunger strikers intend to refuse food “until the full body of the Brown University Corporation hears and considers a divestment resolution, introduced by President Christina Paxson and presented by student representatives of the Brown Divest Coalition, in their upcoming meeting on Feb. 8 and 9,” after which point, they will end the strike and protest in other ways if their demands aren’t met.
On campuses across the nation, administrations have developed harsh, retaliatory measures designed to diminish Palestinian solidarity on campus. Organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine have been targeted or even suspended at schools like Rutgers and Columbia, where students have now solidified strong coalition groups of several student organizations supporting mobilizations for Palestine.
American University — which has also developed a Palestinian coalition group to combat administrative adversity — recently sent an email banning indoor protests on its campus in response to numerous student demonstrations organized for Palestine. Meanwhile, in a demonstration last Friday organized by Columbia students to support Palestinian organizers and those impacted by the recent chemical attack, police violently charged into crowds and made random arrests.
Despite these adversities, the momentum of youth organizing for Palestine shows no signs of letting up — a testament, according to Kaleem Hawa, of a collective, revolutionary commitment. “Youth remain committed to fighting against institutional complicity with Zionism because [we] have the justice of the cause and the truth behind us,” Hawa told Truthout. “There is so much bravery on display.”