Op-ed author Anastasia Torres-Gil holds up a sign demanding the return of Bipin Joshi, a 23-year-old man from Nepal who is among Hamas' hostages in Gaza, at a May 20 protest at UC Santa Cruz. (Courtesy Torres-Gil)
Op-ed author Anastasia Torres-Gil holds up a sign demanding the return of Bipin Joshi, a 23-year-old man from Nepal who is among Hamas' hostages in Gaza, at a May 20 protest at UC Santa Cruz. (Courtesy Torres-Gil)

Being pro-Palestinian doesn’t have to mean you oppose the release of hostages

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It was a beautiful day for a protest. The sun was shining, flowers were blooming and good music was emanating from the UC Santa Cruz across the road. Grad students and members of the United Auto Workers union had gathered beneath the UC Santa Cruz sign at the entrance to the campus to start their strike “to free Palestine.”

Palestinian flags rippled in the breeze as kaffiyeh-clad students struggled to keep a larger-than-life, kaffiyeh-wearing papier-mache figure upright.

I took my position across the street and held up my “kidnapped” poster, displaying a photo of 23-year-old Nepali student Bipin Joshi, one of the estimated 120 hostages kidnapped from Israel by Hamas and still held in Gaza. The hostages are citizens of 20 countries. Among them are Jews and Christians, as well as Muslims because Hamas did not hesitate to kill and kidnap Arab-Israeli Muslims.

Bipin was visiting Israel to learn new farming techniques when he was abducted from the kibbutz where he was studying. Since then, Hamas has refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the hostages.

Unbelievably, the world seems to have largely forgotten the hostages and their status as victims of an ongoing war crime.

I came to UCSC on May 20 with my poster so people would be forced to remember the hostages. My poster did not contain an image of an Israeli flag. My poster said, “Bring Them Home NOW” with the hashtag, “#kidnapped from Israel.”

I stood, watched and held my poster high.

The graduate students, holding their UAW strike signs, were joined by kaffiyeh-clad undergraduate students and community members who began marching and chanting. I heard “Globalize the Intifada” and “We will honor all our martyrs.” 

Did they really understand what they were saying? “Intifada” may mean “uprising” or “resistance” in Arabic, but Palestinian terrorists in Israel have been using the word to describe more than civil disobedience and riots. In the late 1980s to the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s, Palestinian terrorists co-opted the term to describe crushing the skulls of passing Jewish drivers with heavy blocks of concrete and blowing up Israeli public buses and restaurants. The year 2015 saw the “knife intifada” when so many Israeli Jews were stabbed to death and murdered in a variety of other ways.

If UCSC is still enforcing its own enumerated policies that discourage microaggressions, I’m having a difficult time seeing it as a community member.

I will say that none of the pro-Palestinian protesters harassed me. They all civilly exercised their free speech rights. But I did wonder who the students included in their definition of “martyrs” they were honoring. Were they also honoring the approximately 14,000 Hamas combatants who have been killed, alongside innocent civilians?

My thoughts were interrupted by a student who came up to me and identified himself as one of the strike security officials. He told me he wanted to ensure that there would be no violence during my “counter protest.”

His words struck me. Why was my holding a sign that displayed a kidnapped college student and demanded his freedom a “counterprotest” to a strike in solidarity with the rights of Palestinians? If one is pro-Palestinian, does that mean that one endorses war crimes as long as they are perpetrated in Israel or against Israelis?

It mystifies me as to why the U.S. student protesters repeatedly fail to condemn Hamas for hiding behind the Palestinian civilians of Gaza and bringing such misery to them. Apparently, the students are not curious as to why only the Hamas combatants have access to underground shelters (and five-star hotels in Qatar) while Palestinian civilians suffer. Perhaps these students do not understand that the Hamas they are glorifying is the same Hamas that opposes secularism, freedom and democracy for Palestinians?

I love Israel and its people but have no difficulty criticizing the government of Israel. I wish the student strikers could do the same. And I wish that U.S. students could see that demanding Hamas return the hostages immediately would go far, not only to end the suffering of the hostages and their loved ones but to end the suffering of the Palestinian people too.

Anastasia Torres-Gil
Anastasia Torres-Gil

Anastasia Torres-Gil is a retired attorney and active member of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She lives in Santa Cruz.