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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘Not a war about religion’: Protesters in Old Town Square call for ceasefire in Gaza

Monique Bever
Men in support of Palestine gather at Old Town Square for the protest. On Oct. 22, A pro-Palestinian protest was held at Old Town Square followed by a march downtown.

Violence has worsened in Gaza with thousands of deaths resulting from Israeli missiles since Oct. 7, and Wichitans gathered in Old Town Square on Sunday, Oct. 22, to speak on behalf of the Palestinians affected. 

The creation of Israel in 1948 marked the displacement of more than 700,00 Palestinians and the capture of 78% of the region’s land. After Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist political group, launched a surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7, the Israeli government started a bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip. The death toll in Gaza has reached nearly 5,100 Palestinians as of Oct. 23. 

The Wichita protest was organized by several community members, including Sabreen Abusherbi, with the goal of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and pushing the United States government to make policy changes.

According to Abusherbi, part of the controversy over supporting Palestine or Israel is the confusion between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. She said that anti-Zionism is the belief that Jewish people do not have an exclusive right to Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people, whereas antisemitism is the discrimination of the Jewish people. The anti-Zionists at the protest did not condone antisemitism.

“This is not a war about religion,” Abusherbi said. “This is, you know, a war of sovereignty and land. This is about the displacement and taking over the homes of the Palestinians. This has nothing to do with the Jews. This has nothing to do with (Israel’s) Jewish religion.”

The protesters focused on the human rights that Palestinians are deprived of, including food, water, shelter and safety. Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years. Following the Hamas attack, Israel announced their plan to shut off electricity in Gaza and withhold food and fuel until Hamas freed all Israeli hostages that were captured.

Restoring basic human rights and humanity to Palestinians were the driving values behind the protest, according to Abusherbi. 

“Their children are being killed, women are being killed – murdered,” protester Iman Khalil said. “Now, they’re saying that there’s like, you can smell the dead because they just can’t get to people under the rubble.

“Put yourself in their position. What would you do if somebody was to take your home and somebody was to bomb you? If you’re pulling your own child out of the rubble? What would you, how would you feel?”

The conflict in Palestine directly affects families in the U.S., too. Carrie Seyam, another protester, said she married a Palestinian person. 

“My kids are half Palestinian and very true to their culture and heritage,” she said. “They do have relatives that have lost their homes … My daughter, every night, she can’t sleep. She watches kids, you know, being pulled out of rubble and things like that, and so she cries every day.”

U.S. Government responsibility

Maheen Khan, another protester, said U.S. citizens have a huge voice that can be utilized to uphold American beliefs, including peace, harmony and justice. 

“The U.S. is the biggest financial and moral supporter of Israel, which is committing these crimes in Gaza,” Khan said. “So therefore, it is a moral responsibility as well to stand up against these crimes.”

Seyam compared the conflict to the genocide that Native Americans faced after Christopher Columbus came to the Americas. 

Protesters also felt the U.S. government should send aid to Palestinians rather than Israel.

President Joe Biden has offered a great deal of support to Israel, including a variety of military equipment and weapons. He also promised to send $100 million to Palestinians for food, water, and hygienic care in the midst of the crisis. Israel receives $3.3 billion Israel in military funds annually from the U.S.

“What (the U.S. government is) doing is not right whatsoever. I mean, killing innocent civilians altogether, whether you’re a government, whether you’re a president, whether you’re anything, is just not right,” Khalil said. 

Khan said Americans’ taxes fund and negatively affect this conflict. 

“We want to let our representatives, our U.S. representatives, know that we are calling and demanding for an urgent ceasefire, and we are not okay with what is happening in Palestine right now,” she said. 

Protesters planned on making their stance clear to the government as well as holding them accountable for their actions.

“We are going to be watching,” Abusherbi said. “What (U.S. government officials) say … and what they vote for. I will also be writing letters and calling them … to hold them accountable for their decisions.”

Support among WSU students

Students Organize for Syria (SOS), a WSU student organization, also showed support for Palestine this weekend. 

According to sophomore Huda Jesri, the treasurer of SOS, the organization came to emphasize that it is not just one group of people being affected but that the root issue is human suffering and loss of human rights.

“When you have, like, people advocating from all different sides and different ethnicities and genders and sexualities, it really shows … it’s nothing about religion,” Jesri said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis.”

Providing aid

Khalil shared how advocates for Palestinians can cause change to provide aid to Gaza.

“It would help the innocent civilians (in Gaza) and would help people just come to their senses and not turn a blind eye,” Khalil said. “And I mean, they’re innocent civilians. It hurts to watch, it hurts to see; it’s evil.” 

Most of all, the protesters wanted those in Gaza to know they are seen, heard, and supported by people all around the world.

“We want you to know that we love you, and we’re trying to help you,” Jesri said. “Keep holding onto your hope, hold onto your faith. One day, Palestine will be free, and we’re going to be on the right side of history.”

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About the Contributors
Genesis Merriett
Genesis Merriett, Reporter
Genesis Merriett is a first-year reporter for The Sunflower. She is a sophomore majoring in mathematics, however, Merriett enjoys writing as well. She is originally from Missouri, but lived in Colorado for most of her life until moving to Wichita five years ago. Additionally, she enjoys drawing, crochet and exploring new places in her free time.
Monique Bever
Monique Bever, Reporter
Monique Bever is a first-year reporter and photographer. She is a freshman majoring in philosophy. Monique has lived in Wichita for most of her life. She loves film, fashion, and her cat.

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    Peter GrantNov 6, 2023 at 5:48 am

    I was at this protest and not once was anything said to denounce Hamas. As a Jew I do believe in a free Palestine but not at the expense of the Jewish people. If the “good” people of Gaza, years ago, revolted against Hamas, Gaza would probably be a much different and better place today. While I believe it is a tragedy what is happening to the civilians in Gaza, Israel needs to now go after Hamas and take them out while trying to protect civilians and at this protest the good Palestinian people of Wichita should have denounced Hamas along with calling for a ceasefire and a free Palestine.