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Group of Students Walkout in Support of Palestinians

The two dozen protesters were met with a counterprotest

Approximately 25 students and a handful of parents gathered just outside the front lawn Thursday in a walkout in support of Palestinians. The students were met with a group of opposing protestors – consisting of around 15 adults – who stood on the opposite side of McKinley Road holding a combination of American flags, Israeli flags, and signs.

The walkout – which lasted 20 minutes – began with a series of speeches. Five students spoke in total. All students wore some sort of facial covering, including masks, to protect their identities; some wore Keffiyehs, a Palestinian symbol of freedom. Police were present on the school’s front lawn, as well as select staff members, including Principal Dr. Erin Lenart.

“Our mission is only to be there in peaceful protest, and thus we will not be supporting any hate speech that targets any person, group, or religious faith,” said sophomore Aiza Mirza.

The speakers were met with loud opposition from the other group of protestors, who said things like “you should be ashamed of yourselves.” One opposing protestor approached the group of students with a megaphone, holding a sign that said “LFHS Admin Grooms Hitler Youth,” and repeated this phrase throughout the duration of the walkout.

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“I found it quite sad that there was so much hatred in response to a message calling for peace, but I think we did our best at ignoring the hate and continuing to spread unity,” said sophomore Reza Anarwala.

In the past week, hundreds of Gaza war protests have occurred on college and high school campuses across the country. More than 220 individuals were recently arrested at Columbia University, and the University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony because of  persistent protests. Local high schools, including Libertyville High School and Warren Township High School, also held walkouts Thursday.

Junior Ibrahim Hashim said he expected some degree of negative response, but this did not deter him.

“My personal goal is not to get a reaction but to show my support for the Palestinian people, who have been occupied for 75+ years and have been under torment since October,” said Hashim. “Many people misunderstood why we were out there today. We were out there protesting civilian death at the hands of Israel. This is not a religious issue. We had Rabbis, Muslims, Christians, and Atheists out there under one cause: Stop the killing of innocent men, women, and children.”

Originally, Hashim said he did not plan on speaking at the walkout, but he said he felt compelled to make his voice heard once he heard the opposing group of protestors.

“I felt like I needed to [speak]. I was astonished how people feel the need to yell at kids and call us things like ‘mini Hitlers’ and ‘terrorists’ when we are protesting innocent people dying. We were not protesting for Hamas or for killing Israelis, but we were simply protesting the thousands of innocent civilians killed,” said Hashim.

The walkout attracted attention from the surrounding area. Several cars honked their horns as they drove past the protests in support of the students’ cause. At one point, traffic was stopped on McKinley Road by an individual in a car attempting to film the scene. There were also people in cars expressing their disapproval, which they conveyed by shouting at the students as they drove by.

I have to do whatever possible in order to help them, whether that be protesting, reposting on Instagram, or donating, I feel it is my duty as a human to try to help.

— Junior Ibrahim Hashim

The Israel-Hamas War is a multifaceted, complex issue with many differing perspectives, especially for those who have personal ties to Israel, Palestine, or Gaza. This is reflected within the LFHS student body, as some students opposed today’s walkout.

“I was opposed to the walkout because I feel like it distracts from the larger issue at hand.  It spread divisive and uneducated narratives that changed the perspective away from the 133 Israeli hostages comprised of men, women, and children still stuck in Gaza that still have yet to be returned, as well as the multiple atrocities and human rights violations committed against the Jewish people worldwide including the 33 Americans murdered by Hamas in Israel,” said senior and Jewish student Oliver Silver. “Nobody wants human suffering, but at the end of the day Israel is a sovereign nation that has every right to defend itself and its people, and using hateful and ignorant terms like genocide to describe the conflict only prevents peace.”

Students who chose to speak at the walk out shared personal experiences with those around them to advocate for the shared goal of reaching peace.

“I am not a terrorist. I am not a threat. I am not wrong for being my identity. I am a person just like everybody else here,” said junior Amina Shaimi in her speech. “One of my baby cousins in Palestine, who is three, is missing, and he is a person too. He is just like any Israeli person, or any person of any other nationality. And he has the same intrinsic value as anybody else.”

A group of parents holding signs and flags in support of Palestine. Photo courtesy of Emma Stadolnik.

In an email sent to LFHS families and staff members Tuesday, Principal Lenart confirmed that the walk out was not school-sponsored. Public school students’ right to assemble peacefully is protected under the First Amendment, as long as such expression does not interfere with the operation of the school or threaten other students.

“I have personally met with students who are planning the event, and I have been assured that this is about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, and it is not an expression for or against any particular religious group,” said Lenart in the email.

After each speech concluded, the students  chanted “Free, Free Palestine.” This was followed by a collective moment of silence for those who have lost their lives in the Gaza war.

Despite the opposition present, most students protesting said they were not discouraged.

“We know it is our right to speak up and that the school and police presence will keep that right safe,” said Anarwala.

Hashim, like other Muslim students, has been deeply affected by the war, which started on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel from the Gaza strip, killing 1,200 Israelis and taking 240 hostage. Israel’s military response has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians.

“These are people who believe the same beliefs as me, eat the same food as me, talk the same language as me, and look the same as me. I see hundreds of videos and pictures of innocent men, women, and children being brutally murdered, and I see myself in them,” said Hashim. “I feel helpless in this situation, and I have to do whatever possible in order to help them, whether that be protesting, reposting on Instagram, or donating, I feel it is my duty as a human to try to help.”

The walkout concluded without incident, and all participating students returned to class.

“I thought this walkout was very successful. We achieved our goal of educating people and showing our support for the people of Palestine,” said Anarwala. “I thought that the people there were unified against hate and steadfast in spreading our message. It felt like each person there was a part of something bigger than themselves.”

This story was originally published on The Forest Scout on May 2, 2024.