Over 35 students gathered throughout the day Nov. 9 on Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s East Lawn to call for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and what many students referred to as a “genocide” of the Palestinian people.
However, a history professor who was not involved in the walkout advised students to ensure they have an understanding of the word “genocide” before using it at protests.
Students, like history senior Eden Duarte, missed class from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. to take a stand for their beliefs as part of the Support Palestine Walkout and Israel-Hamas protests that have rippled through schools and universities nationwide.
“I have a class from 11 (a.m.) to 12:15 (p.m.) — this is something that’s very important to me,” Duarte said. “The more people that know about (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), the more people that are speaking out about it, the better.”
Duarte heard about the protest through flyers that began sprouting up around campus on Nov. 7. The university did not sanction the flyers or the protest, according to an email sent to A&M-San Antonio students, faculty and staff the morning of the protest.
“I saw a flyer and I was like, ‘Oh, I gotta be there’,” Duarte said.
Soon after, Duarte ran into event organizer Carson Parkinson in an elevator and eagerly asked how she could get involved.
Parkinson, a political science junior at A&M-San Antonio, independently organized the walkout with help from a few other students. Parkinson said the walkout was meant to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
“We are also calling for a ceasefire at the bare minimum, and hopefully to end the occupation that Palestine is facing,” Parkinson said.
To get the message out, Parkinson printed over 700 flyers to distribute on campus and messaged her classmates.
Parkinson said she raised over $70 from student donations to fund the protest: she had a banner that read “FREE PALESTINE” held by metal poles in cement buckets, a small stage, a rented tent and snacks and water for participants. Any money she didn’t spend on the event would be donated to the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Parkinson said. MECA is a nonprofit organization supporting community projects for Palestinian children and Syrian refugees.
“I think the children are the real ones suffering in this whole thing,” Parkinson said. “How can anyone watch that? I can’t, and it kills me.”
At the beginning of the protest, Parkinson read from green index cards to a crowd of about 20 students. She orated the history of Israel and Palestine from the time Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Since then, Palestinian authorities have reported a death toll of 11,078 in the Gaza Strip, and Israel has reported a death toll of 1,400. The majority of deaths are reported as civilian deaths, according to a Nov. 10 Al Jazeera news article.
“We cannot just view this whole thing as what happened on Oct. 7,” Parkinson told the crowd. “We need to remember the history of how this colonization started.”
Parkinson asked those in attendance to join her in two minutes of silence in honor of the Palestinians.
Participants were also encouraged to call their federal, state and local representatives to ask them to call for a ceasefire and to express concern about where their tax dollars were going.
In a voicemail that Parkinson left for Sen. Ted Cruz, she said, “Hello. My name is Carson Parkinson from San Antonio, Texas. I’m calling Ted Cruz for him to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. I also do not support my tax dollars going to fund this genocide. Have a great day.”
Parkinson allowed The Mesquite to record while she made the call to Cruz’s office.
Education junior Veronica Pusateri called House Rep. Tony Gonzalez to say “I am a voter. I am a taxpayer. I don’t support my representatives supporting genocide. I also don’t support my tax dollars being used to fund this.”
In addition to calls to her representatives, Pusateri has chosen to protest the Israel-Hamas war by boycotting businesses and brands that support Israel.
“I don’t know how much of a difference it really makes…but it’s something at least,” Pusateri said.
Water conservation junior Ricardo Henriquez said he has been a part of anti-war groups since enrolling at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2004.
“At the time, we were talking about the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and so that started everything,” Henriquez said. “Our first event that we had was a Palestinian journalist who was doing a tour and we invited her to campus to talk about what was going on in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
Henriquez said the conditions he saw during that presentation left an imprint on him saying “Long before we were able to call it a genocide, it was a genocide.”
The term ‘genocide’ is defined by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This includes killing or causing serious mental or bodily harm of a group and inflicting physically destructive conditions to a part of or entirety of a group.
At least two faculty members attended Thursday’s protest, but declined to comment to the Mesquite and asked not to be named.
The Mesquite also reached out to A&M-San Antonio professors who were not involved with the walkout to ask what they thought about students being involved in the walkout.
Dr. Edward Westermann, regents professor of history at A&M-San Antonio is in the department of History, Philosophy, and Geography. Westermann, author of “Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars: Comparing Genocide and Conquest,” specializes in modern European history, the Holocaust, and war and society.
The Mesquite contacted Westermann for his take on the protest. However, he declined to discuss the topic.
“I would also really stress the importance of understanding the term and the concept of genocide because that is something that is being very widely used in many protests,” Kiser said.
Dr. William Kiser, associate professor of history and chair of History, Philosophy, and Geography, said “So many people have passionate views on this issue, and many people’s passionate views are also biased in one way or another and are politically motivated in one way or another.”
“It’s really important for everybody to be extremely vigilant and responsible in how they seek information,” said Kiser. “The sources that they seek information from, understanding the legitimacy of those sources, the biases of those sources, whether those sources might be some form of propaganda disguised as news, whether there might be inherent political or activist motivations within a source that aren’t necessarily apparent at first glance…”
Kiser, who teaches classes on Civil War and Reconstruction, the American West, Native American history, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods, emphasized how important it is for students to be informed on their stances and understand the history regarding them.
“If somebody is participating in this pro-Palestine rally today, I would hope that they understand the history behind the relationship between Israel and Palestine,” Kiser said. “Same thing would be true if there is a pro-Israel rally, that somebody participating in that — whether they’re Jewish or not — would have a firm understanding.”
He added that students should also understand the terminology used by sources that they use for information.
“I would also really stress the importance of understanding the term and the concept of genocide because that is something that is being very widely used in many protests,” Kiser said. “It’s something that has a very specific historical origin, it has a specific definition within the United Nations — even resolution — and it has specific applications across time and place that have actually given rise to an entire scholarly field of inquiry of genocide studies.”
University communications sent to students a few hours before the walkout stated the protest was not endorsed by the university, but that A&M-San Antonio must be a space where individuals can freely express themselves.
“Acts of hate or bias will not be tolerated, and we eschew all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia, as well as anti-Israel and anti-Arab sentiment.”