Photo: Cole Zelznak/Catalyst

On Wednesday, December 13, over two dozen students at New College of Florida (NCF) entered a faculty meeting and held a silent protest for Palestine and against NCF President Donal O’Shea.

Last week, O’Shea broke the BDS Movement’s academic boycott of Israel and boasted of Israel’s education system in a shocking op-ed in Sarasota Herald Tribune. The article made no mention of Israel’s illegal regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.

A coalition of student-led groups comprised of Million Hoodies – West Florida Chapter, Students Targeting Oppressive Powers (STOP), Black Student Union, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy joined the action.

“The people of Palestine have had their land stolen, have been kicked out their own country, and have faced persecution. How can we be silent when children are being killed by the apartheid state [of Israel] and having their fundamental rights revoked? We have to stand up against the forces of imperialism in all of its forms,” said Million Hoodies member Steven Keshishian.

Students held signs depicting different images of destruction in Palestine in the wake of the Israeli airstrike on Gaza that took place on December 8, along with a banner that read, “Who’s seeking whose destruction?”

The banner referred to O’Shea’s insinuation that Israel’s illegal occupation and war crimes are merely a response to Arab and Palestinian aggression.

“Israel is under constant threat, and their universities respond with programs that address security concerns. In Florida, we are not under threat from neighbors seeking our destruction,” O’Shea wrote in the op-ed.

In reality, Palestine is the nation under siege. Palestine has no army, air force or navy. In contrast, Israel’s military budget in 2016 was $17.6 billion. Additionally, in September, the United States agreed to provide Israel a record $38 billion in new military aid over the next decade.

“O’Shea’s statements feel like an immense betrayal to students, both Palestinian students and those who care about them,” said Alex Schelle, a member of STOP and thesising student at NCF. “I’m disappointed and hurt that our president’s priorities are in disarray. These comments are dangerous, and corrective action must be taken immediately.”

As students wrote in their press release: “By failing to mention or validate the existence of Palestinians, President O’Shea further suppresses an already vulnerable and oppressed group of people.”

Students stand in protest across from NCF President Donal O’Shea. Photo: Cole Zelznak/Catalyst

Students assert that O’Shea’s statements are “misrepresentative and negligent” and that they are “only further proof of the dire need for dialogue about the Palestinian plight currently taking place.”

To further this dialogue, Million Hoodies – West Florida and Peace Education and Action Center will be cosponsoring an orientation on January 16 for the week long artistic residency There Is A Field, which is centered around a play about Aseel Asleh, a 17-year old Palestinian citizen of Israel killed by police in October 2000.

The residency seeks to unite the struggles of Arab, Palestinian, Black & Latinx people in the U.S. Its workshops and performance offer communities who have experienced disproportionate state violence and oppression an opportunity to deeply engage with issues related to Palestine, and the connections these issues have to their own lives and stories.

If you’d like to be part of it, just email [email protected]!