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Free Palestine ralliers urge timely UMS divestment measures

On April 29, ralliers gathered in front of Fogler Library to call  for a ceasefire in Palestine and demand that the University of Maine System (UMS) divest from U.S. military forces supporting the Israeli government. About 50 students, faculty, staff and other community members  participated.

President of UMaine Jewish Voices for Peace Jacob Hinz helped lead the rally and reminded participants that hate speech, antisemitism and Islamophobia were not permitted. He also advised the crowd to ignore any agitators. Hinz shared current statistics on Palestinian deaths and injuries. 

“Over 100,000 people have been maimed or killed. That is about 5% of the entire population. One in 20 people have been injured in this genocide so far. 15,000 children have been killed, insane numbers,” said Hinz. “There are no more universities left in Gaza, constituting a scholasticide.”

According to UN News, scholasticide is defined as the “systemic obliteration of education through the arrest, detention or killing of teachers, students and staff and the destruction of educational infrastructure.”

Hinz emphasized that the purpose of the rally  at UMaine is to show solidarity with Palestinian citizens and students across America who are fighting for the same cause. Widespread brutality from law enforcement has endangered the well-being and constitutional rights of students and non-students across the country who promote anti-war efforts. Some of the prevention measures have been violent responses to non-violent protests. 

Hinz also shared that these efforts will be ongoing in Bangor throughout the summer months and advised advocates to support organizations such as Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights and the Party for Socialism and Liberation

Tom Pinette, a member of JVP, began the speaker portion. Pinette believes the movement to demand a ceasefire in Gaza immediately is crucial. He mentioned that over 30,000 civilians have been killed. Pinette shared that he believes the number is higher because the IDF prevents means of documenting the exact number of deaths. Some Palestinians documented their experience throughout the last seven months.  

“Just this week, Israel mobilized invasion forces to invade Rafah,” said Pinette. “They are equipped with new tanks, bombs and warplanes from the United States. As Israel levels universities and hospitals, indiscriminately murdering thousands of civilians, our country’s institutions have kept completely silent, shameless of their financial and military complicity in the genocide,”

Student attendees expressed outrage for having to pay tuition fees to attend college which could contribute to military investments. 

“As people living in the United States of America, we are exercising our fundamental right to free speech and assembly. Even as police departments and university administrations consistently ignore and desecrate those rights,” said Pinette. “We join this growing movement because we cannot stand idly by while our taxpayer dollars fund a genocide.” 

Vice President and Co-Founder of JVP Elsa Molarsky was another student organizer for the rally. She explained a concept that is taught in Judaic studies called “tikkun olam.” It is a principle that translates to “healing of the world” and encourages the human race to leave no trace or make improvements. According to Molarsky, all oppression is intertwined. Israel survived genocide less than one century ago. 

“We need to let the university know and we are letting them know with all of you here. I am so happy to see so many people here, supporting this cause on campus,” said Mularski. 

UMaine Graduate Workers Union (UMGWU) Member Nik Brocchini delivered a statement on behalf of the UMGWU bargaining committee. He expressed solidarity with Palestine and student protestors across the nation whose First Amendment rights have been unjustly oppressed by censorship, expulsion, dismissal, eviction and arrest.

“One of our 14 bargaining goals is to protect the academic freedom of graduate workers in the workplace, the freedom to pursue truth in our research and teaching duties without censorship or retaliation,” said Brocchini. “Another goal is to win specific protections for the international graduate workers among us and yet another seeks to protect all graduate workers from harassment, discrimination and bullying at work.”

Political Science Professor Nick Micinski represented the alliance of concerned faculty and staff at UMaine during the rally. A total of 18 faculty and staff members are associated with the organization, which calls on UMS to support the freedom to assemble and speak out. Micinski encourages UMaine affiliates who feel similarly to sign an official statement.

Following the speaker portion, Hinz referenced the approximate $1.2 million that UMS invested in Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS). The investment targets seek to put external pressure on Israel to comply with international law to end ethnic cleansing, dispossession of land and other violent measures. This strategy helped to end apartheid in South Africa and has the potential for similar results in Israel, according to Hinz. 

The rally concluded with a march around the Mall on campus. This UMaine movement seeks to gain administrative attention by legal means. 

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