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San Francisco State faculty back students protesting Israel's attacks on Gaza with new encampment

Student-driven protests at San Francisco State get support of some faculty
Student-driven protests at San Francisco State get support of some faculty 04:38

The student-driven protests in support of Palestinians in Gaza are gaining steam in the Bay Area, with San Francisco State joining other campuses by erecting its own protest encampment while receiving some vocal support from faculty members as well.

"Welcome everybody to the SF State rally for solidarity with Gaza!" boomed a speaker as the crowd of students jammed Malcolm X Plaza for the noontime rally. San Francisco State on Monday became the latest American university to establish a live-in protest over the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

"Free, free Palestine! Free, free Palestine!" the protesters chanted.

While the sprawling student encampment at UC Berkeley has remained calm in the week since it was established, students have been arrested at Columbia, the University of Texas in Austin and Boston's Northeastern University among.

Locally, there have been additional protest encampments and building occupations at Stanford and Cal Poly Humboldt that started last week as well as more recent protests developing on Monday at Sonoma State and Sac State.  

The student demands are now familiar: divest from Israel's military, cut ties with its universities, and recognize the action in Gaza as genocide. In the crowd was SFSU political science professor James Martell.  He is part of a newly formed group called Faculty For Justice in Palestine, who are lending support to the student movement.

"It's beautiful. I love seeing all the students and the faculty," Martell said. "We're all united. We've been organizing for a long time together."

On Sunday, the Faculty For Justice group sent a letter to the administration requesting that school officials take no action to hamper the on-campus protests. They're asking that the school refrain from dispatching police to student demonstrations, refrain from academic retaliation against students and respect their right to protest on campus.  

Professor Martell still isn't entirely convinced that things will stay peaceful.

"The tradition of this university is to have cops come and destroy everything and arrest everyone. So if they keep up that tradition, we're in trouble," he said. "But I hope that doesn't happen."

That "tradition" dates back to 1968 when police engaged in a bloody clash with students engaging in a campus-wide strike over the school's treatment of people of color.  The incident became a national embarrassment and led to reforms by the university, including the establishment of the nation's first College of Ethnic Studies.  

On Monday, another member of Faculty for Justice, Professor Omar Zahzah, said he hoped it wouldn't happen again. He noted the recent images of police trying to break up Gaza protests around the country feel oddly reminiscent of 1968.

"In this specific moment, as we're seeing the examples of countless universities resorting to such blatant forms of repression, we thought, essentially, 'Better safe than sorry.' To come together proactively and say, 'We are asking this not happen and we're here for support,'" said Prof. Zahzah.

When the rally ended, the protestors began assembling their tents, surrounded by a protective line of students standing hand-in-hand. They seem convinced that there will be an effort to force the students out.  Professor Martell said he'd like to believe that won't happen.

"But I think it's, nonetheless, part of the tradition of how the left gets dealt with is to bring in the cops," he said.

College campuses have always been a crucible of social change. The question for SF State is whether it will be a place where history is learned or simply repeated?

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