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The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

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Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

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Students and Faculty Respond to the War on Gaza

Heidi Hanson
On Nov. 16, 2023, choreographer and dancer Leila Awadallah performed a work-in-progress dance in the Gretchen Cohenour Studio in Memorial Hall. Awadallah’s work-in-progress piece was a combination of traditional Palestinian movements and verbal statements that have been found in the accounts of the horrors occurring in Gaza during the months of October and November.

The occupation of Palestine by Israel began initially in 1948. This was known as the Nakba, or catastrophe, and resulted in the removal of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Now, a full 75 years later, millions of people have petitioned for a ceasefire of Israel’s current attack on Gaza.


The United States government’s relationship with Israel and subsequent aid for Israel’s military is an incredibly alarming fact for many Winona State University students and faculty. According to the New York Times, the United States provides Israel with more than $3 billion in military assistance every year. Furthermore, the Minnesota State system is implicated as well, given its connection to Elbit Systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer.


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The Gaza strip, located between Egypt and Israel, is a part of Palestine that is home to about 2.3 million people, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, in the seven weeks since the start of the current Israeli attack that started on Oct. 7, 2023, over 14,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 36,000 injured. Over half of Gaza’s homes have been destroyed (around 278,000 properties), water and food are severely limited and well over half of Gaza’s hospitals have been destroyed by Israel’s bombs and are now not functioning.


Black Palestinian, WSU Alum and one of the original student founders of the WSU Pro-Palestine Organization, Alexis Salem, stated the importance of student knowledge regarding Palestine’s occupation relates to Natives in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.


“It’s a genocide based on the lies of manifest destiny; it’s not a complicated thing understand once you realize that the whole process is recycled from the genocide of Natives and the Holocaust,” Salem said.


On Nov. 16, 2023, choreographer and dancer Leila Awadallah performed a work-in-progress dance in the Gretchen Cohenour Studio in Memorial Hall. Awadallah’s dance research considers how Palestinian “livelihood, strategies of resistance, cultures of rhythm and ritual” and the occupation of Palestine by Israeli settlers impacts the movements of daily life for Palestinians and how this can be illustrated through body movement and dance.


Awadallah’s work-in-progress piece was a combination of traditional Palestinian movements and verbal statements that have been found in the accounts of the horrors occurring in Gaza during the months of October and November. Her performance shared statements from news sources in the “open air prison” that is Gaza, one of which is “if you can hear the bombs, at least you know you’re still alive.”


“I read that this morning and it hit me, like, what does it mean to check in if you’re alive or not?” Awadallah said. “I wanted to be alive and responsive [in the dance]. I hope I won’t have to perform this in a year.”


Jess Weis, a Public Relations major and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor at WSU, when asked what she would inform students about regarding the occupation of Palestine, responded with a question.


“I’d tell them what the average Palestinian has to endure while living under apartheid: multiple checkpoints, different passports, constant surveillance, and constant collective punishment,” Weis stated. “In a different context, I’d ask the individual how they would feel if everything they knew and loved was taken away from them and they were limited in how they could live; how would they react?”


American opinions on Israel and Palestine have had an increased partisan divide before the recent Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023 and the Palestinian genocide that has been occurring since; a Pew Research Article in 2018 stated that “nearly twice as many liberal Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel.”


According to an NPR article written in Oct. of this year, Americans often side with Israel because of biblical connections with Israel and “strategic” military connections. It also stated that the majority of “Pro-Israel” Americans were among the older population, with younger Americans tending to be less “Pro-Israel” than their older counterparts.


Dr. Mary Jo Klinker, WSU Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor whose teaching and research centers anti-imperial feminism, including Palestine solidarity in social movements. She discussed Zionism and that in 1975, there was a UN Resolution that acknowledged this political ideology as a form of racial discrimination, which was later revoked under US leadership and pressure.


“It is not antisemitic to critique an imperial government,” Klinker stated. “I think it’s important for people to understand this: conflating anti-Zionism, which is the critique of colonial racism, to antisemitism, which is a dangerous form of white nationalist oppression against Jewish people. This conflation is meant to silence people; for instance, the shutting down of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace student groups on college campuses.”


Donald Trump declared criticism of the Israeli government as a form of antisemitism under the Civil Rights Act in 2019, which could easily be used against college students when protesting for Palestinian rights. This application to college students increases the importance for students to be educated on what’s happening in Palestine and Israel and to know their rights.


“It’s really important to understand that every violation of a human right is connected to other violations of human rights,” Klinker stated. “If you’re an activist, you should bring Palestine solidarity into the struggle of the work that you do; for instance, fighting for reproductive justice must also mean stopping the use of teargas on the streets of Minneapolis and against Palestinian children in Aida refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Planned Parenthood has found this exposure impacted reproductive health and menstrual cycles.”

Klinker added that the current war on Gaza has also increased violence in the United States.


“American imperial violence normalizes and fuels the conditions of racism and islamophobia, as was seen after September 11, 2001,” Klinker stated. “More recently, last month, a Palestinian child who was 6 years old was stabbed to death in Illinois and this weekend, three Palestinian college students in Vermont were shot in a hate crime (Nov. 25). This is a devastating continuation of racism, undermining the safety of people of color.”


Dr. Danielle Schwartz, an Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at WSU, is an American-Jew who grew up in a large community of Zionists.  Zionism, a form of Jewish nationalism, fuels Israel’s apartheid in Palestine. Schwartz now identifies as an anti-Zionist with expertise in decolonial feminisms and media. Schwartz emphasized the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and why students should be educated.


“I think it’s important that students are educated on the coloniality of Palestine and Israel because the US has a “special” relationship with Israel and since many of our students are American, their tax money is paying for the ammunitions, missiles, bombs, and international-law-breaking weapons that Israel is using in the genocide of Palestinians,” Schwartz said.


Weis also urges WSU students to be significantly educated on the Palestinian occupation because of the connection the U.S. has with Israel. Along with being educated, Weis and other interview respondents included the importance of contacting elected officials, attending local protest opportunities, attending teach-ins, boycotting and spreading awareness.


“Students should care because YOUR money is going toward this; state universities and institutions are taxed, and the tuition WE pay- is going toward this,” Weis stated. “We cannot stay in our bubble of comfort and ignore what is happening to/in Palestine–imagine what that money could do for our communities instead of being used to kill innocent people.”


The connections don’t stop at a federal level; the MN Cyber Institute, a program within the Minnesota State System, was sponsored by Elbit Systems of America. Elbit Systems was founded in 1966 through a connection with the Israeli Ministry of Defense Research, according to the Elbit website. The weaponry produced by Elbit has been stated to be used in the Israeli attacks on Gaza and even produces the same tear gas that was used in the George Floyd protests in the United States in 2020.


“These acts are being committed in the American citizen’s name and everyone experiencing the genocide knows it,” Salem stated. “Also, the worst practices are coming to the US, having marched during the George Floyd protests I was tear gassed by the same canisters Israel uses on my relatives in Palestine.”


“I think students should know that it goes beyond tax dollars,” Schwartz commented after discussing the connection of Minnesota State to Elbit Systems. “I’m not sure that students realize how much their education is wrapped up in genocide, but they should know.”


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About the Contributor
Heidi Hanson
Heidi Hanson, Features Editor

Heidi Hanson (she/her/hers) is the Features Editor for the Winonan as of fall 2022. She joined the Winonan during her first semester at WSU, back in fall of 2021. Hanson is currently a third year at Winona State University, majoring in Communication Arts and Literature Teaching with a minor in Communication Studies Teaching.

Besides writing for the Winonan, Hanson is a Resident Assistant at the East Lake Apartments and is a member of the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH). She also works as a research assistant for the Communications Department.

For fun, Hanson enjoys reading mystery novels, watching horror movies, and enjoying music from all genres. She also enjoys journaling and exploring the surrounding area of Winona.

Hanson hopes to be a middle or high school English teacher after graduation to spread her love of literature and provide a safe space for future students who go through her English Literature classroom. Before that, however, she hopes to have a fulfilled four years at WSU and grow through work and social experiences.

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  • A

    AnonDec 13, 2023 at 1:55 pm

    While I believe it is important to call out Israel and their blatant genocide of the Palestinian people, it would also be a disservice if we did not call out Hamas and their attacks on the Israeli people. During the October 7th attack, Hamas struck at a concert, and several innocent people were killed, some American. One was a German woman who was brutally raped, killed, brutalized, and then paraded through the streets of Israel. Her family was only able to recognize her based off her tattoos. That is not the only instance but it is one of the most brutal.

    While my heart weeps for the Palestinians, as people we get caught up and invested in their cause while sometimes losing sight of the fact that Hamas is hardly blameless, and to call out one side while ignoring the other does a disservice to those caught in the conflict on both sides.

  • B

    Beckry Abdel-MagidDec 3, 2023 at 7:55 pm

    Very interesting article and interviews. I agree the more students know about what is happening in the world, the more power they will have to change the world.