How the UCLA campus in Los Angeles reflects the tension generated in the US by the war in the Middle East – La Opinion

How the UCLA campus in Los Angeles reflects the tension generated in the US by the war in the Middle East – La Opinion

“I brought my children to be inspired,” says Shaan Sethi, lifting them up, first the 7-year-old and then the 9-year-old, so they can see what lies beyond the security perimeter.

We are in the heart of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the most prestigious public institutions of higher education in the United States.

And on the other side of the double fence, guarded by agents and decorated with banners that read “Free Palestine” or “Stop genocide”, about two hundred students have been camped since Thursday to demand that the center disassociate itself from companies and individuals that “are benefiting” from the Israeli military operation in Gaza.

An incursion by Israeli forces – which began in retaliation for the October 7 attack by Hamas militants that left 1,200 dead and 240 hostages – has so far claimed the lives of more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Ministry of Health of the Strip.

According to the United Nations, there are some 2 million civilians on the brink of famine.

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Getty Images: As of Thursday, April 25, there are about 200 students camped on the UCLA campus.

“This was always an open area, where students rested on the grass or met between classes. I had never seen it fenced and surrounded by security personnel,” Sethi, who graduated in International Economics on this same campus years ago, tells BBC Mundo.

“So I wanted to show it to my children, because it is something unprecedented but also so that they would understand how polarized the country is today,” he adds.

And it is that the Today, university facilities have become the best reflection of the tension that the war in the Middle East generates in the United States. and the increasingly marked division of American society over the government’s support for a historic ally, Israel.

Protests and expanding tension

The protests at American universities over the war in Gaza are not a matter of the last few days; They have occurred with more or less intensity since the Hamas attack and the beginning of the Israeli offensive.

Followed closely by Democratic and Republican legislators on Capitol Hill, they have caused several officials from the main centers to appear before Congress.

In January, the controversies arising from this conflict ended up costing the president of Harvard, Claudine Gay, her position.

But the mobilizations took on another dimension two weeks ago, when the Police stormed Columbia University in New York and arrested a hundred pro-Palestinian students who were camping on campus.

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Getty Images: Student protests have spread to higher education centers across the country.

The students continue with the proclamations there, at the risk of being suspended for not having met the deadline to break camp – 2:00 p.m. local time on Monday – established by the academic authorities.

And not only have they not stopped in Columbia, but have spread to educational centers throughout the countryfrom Yale to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), passing through Emory, Emerson, Tufts, Brown, Stanford and the University of Texas at Austin.

The west coast is no exception. The University of Southern California (USC), located in Los Angeles and one of the most important private educational centers in the state, announced on Thursday that it would cancel its graduation ceremony “given the security risks posed by the protests.”

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Getty Images: Clash of pro- and anti-Israel protesters on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on April 28, 2024.

Further northwest, on the UCLA campus, the day of greatest tension occurred on Sunday, when Pro-Palestinian protesters came face to face with a counterprotest promoted by the American-Israeli Council.

The organization, founded with the mission of “building a committed and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of the next generation and the bond with the State of Israel,” proclaims on its social networks that it is “unacceptable that any university campus becomes a platform for pro-terrorist and anti-American activities.”

Fences were pushed, there were verbal confrontations, insults, some skirmishes, a woman with minor head injuries. Campus police arrived around 2:30pm and the dozens of people gathered were asked to leave.

“UCLA has a long history as a peaceful protest site“said Mary Osako, vice president of Strategic Communications, in a statement released by the university press office. “We are heartbroken with the violence that broke out.”

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Getty Images:

This Monday, all that remained of that was reinforced security, a tense calm and the huge screen and speakers that the organizers of the counterprotest placed the day before in Dickson Plaza, on a piece of grass a few meters from the fenced student camp.

Adorned with banners demanding the release of the hostages and underlining support for Israel, it continued broadcasting looped images of the October 7 attackinterviews with survivors and messages of support from personalities in the Jewish community.

“We want to educate the students and everyone who passes by here, show them what Hamas does and what this campus is supporting when they shout ‘Intifada, intifada, revolution’ or ‘From the river to the sea’”, a motto that refers to the geographical area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, one of the organizers tells BBC Mundo, who says he has no ties with the university and who asks to stay in anonymity.

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Getty Images: Following Sunday’s protests, there was increased security on the UCLA campus on Monday.

“I don’t feel welcome”

“I am disgusted, disgusted. It is incredible that those who claim to be activists in favor of human rights sing and make proclamations of death and destruction,” adds Alex Jacobs, who identifies himself as a UCLA student – ​​“I prefer not to say the faculty” – but wears dark glasses, a cap and a mask to avoid being recognized, while pointing towards the campers.

“I understand the need to demonstrate, to express opinions, but As a Jewish and pro-Israel student I no longer feel welcome at this university where I always dreamed of studying.“says Andrew Gerbs, a UCLA Sociology student who arrived early to see the panorama and who, unlike others, is open to talking to the media and being photographed.

“I think I can speak for other Jewish students. This creates anxiety for us, it distracts us from studying, because at the end of the day this is a study center,” he emphasizes, although he acknowledges that classes continue to be taught normally on campus, something that BBC Mundo was also able to verify.

“Come, come to know the truth!” a woman shouts to several students who pass in front of the square.

But it’s already noon, and the students ignore her and hurry to another part of the campus.

Place for ideas, debate

The thing is that for this time, 12 o’clock, they were scheduled two simultaneous gearsconvened by the Faculty for Justice in Palestine, which brings together professors and other university staff, and by UCLA Students for Justice in Palestine.

“We are with our students”reads the banner carried by teachers who sympathize with the camp.

Slogans are heard in favor of the liberation of Palestine. Others allude directly to the Israeli prime minister: “Tell us, Netanyahu, how many children did you kill today?”

There are dozens of them and some wear their doctoral insignia as they march down Plaza Portola street.

“The university is a place for ideas, for debate, and We defend the right of students to express themselves, their right to mobilize“, Ananya Roy, founding director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography, tells BBC Mundo.

“Students are now protesting for Gaza as those who protested for Vietnam did in their day,” he adds, bridging the gap but drawing a parallel with the student protests that at the end of the 1960s ended up taking over the national political scene and which resonates more and more among those who comment on the current situation on campuses.

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Getty Images: On Monday there were two simultaneous marches, organized by faculty and students at UCLA.

“Where are we going to protest if not? This is the ideal place to do it,” a student who prefers not to give his name, but who serves as a media liaison for a student coalition, tells BBC Mundo.

“And it is because what We ask that the University of California stop investing funds in those who profit from the genocide in Gaza. And we are not going to leave until we get it,” he emphasizes on the side of the Powell library.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the camped area, through the hallways of Royce Hall, hundreds of students march with that same proclamation, some with keffias tied around their necks or covering their heads, others with pro-Palestine t-shirts, many with masks.

“Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism,” reads one of the banners they raise. “The land you have to kill for does not belong to you.” They have written on another piece of cardboard.

“The power of the people is stronger than the people in power,” in another. “Invest in education, not in war.”

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Getty Images: The mobilizations at UCLA have been largely peaceful.

They soon realize that there are also journalists among the students. “Don’t talk to the media,” says one of the students coordinating the protest. “Don’t let photos be taken.”

I let them advance under the arches of the hallway from which the multicolored tents can be seen, I retrace my path and head to the other side of the security perimeter.

There, I remember the first conversation of the morning, with Sethi, the father who was trying to make his children understand the divided world in which we live.

“I tell them they are like two teams,” he told me.

“But that’s when They ask me: ‘And us, which one do we go for?’“.

To this Sethi responded: “We are among those who support peace.”

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