Around 200 Penn and Drexel community members participated in a national student walkout in support of Palestine on Wednesday afternoon, where speakers pushed back against messaging from their universities, donors, and the media that, they say, neglect Palestinian narratives.
Beginning at the Drexel Dragon on 33rd and Market streets at noon on Oct. 25, rally-goers gave speeches and chanted before marching to the Split Button on Penn's campus. At least ten individuals from both schools delivered speeches criticizing their administrations' response to the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas — urging Penn and Drexel to "reject colonial narratives" amid pressure from influential donors.
The demonstrators also sought to support Gaza amid continuing airstrikes and a mounting death toll in the region, calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. They also accused Penn, Drexel, the United States government, and the media of being complicit in the ongoing violence by endorsing pro-Israel language and failing to treat Palestinians as human beings. Rally-goers said that these institutions need to “cut all ties with the Zionist entity" of Israel.
Ahmad Almallah, a Palestinian poet and artist-in-residence in the Creative Writing and English departments at Penn, read from an original poem titled “A poem for Gaza, a poem for Palestine.”
Multiple speakers and demonstrators who spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian were granted anonymity due to a fear of retaliation.
One demonstrator who was granted anonymity said that she had lost family and friends in Gaza as a result of the conflict, prompting her to attend the rally in solidarity.
“I’m here to be another voice for all of the Palestinian dreams and hopes that we’ve lost – not only [those] that we’ve lost, but the current Palestinians that are sacrificing and willing to do anything to live and be on this earth,” she said.
Speakers and attendees expressed concern about the potential doxxing of students and community members who express support for Palestinians.
“People are worried that they will lose their scholarships, their job offers, their grad school offers," another speaker said while speaking on Penn's campus.
Drexel graduate student Nada Abuasi, who is affiliated with Philadelphia Palestine Coalition, said that community members at Penn and Drexel are being more cautious about how they express their support for Palestinians in light of recent events.
“There's a sense of language coding that I feel is in particularly dehumanizing where folks have to censor what they say [and] have to not speak about certain things because they're afraid of how professors [will] react," she said. "They are afraid of how the administration will react. The reason this fear exists is because they’ve seen it happen to others."
Abuasi cited a truck that appeared on the streets around Harvard’s campus, featuring the names and faces of students allegedly affiliated with student groups that supported a statement on Hamas’ attack on Israel, according to the Harvard Crimson. A similar truck appeared on Columbia's campus Wednesday.
Accuracy in Media, a conservative news media watchdog, sponsored the trucks. On Wednesday, a truck sponsored by the same organization and calling on President Liz Magill to resign appeared parked on Walnut Street.
While pro-Palestine supporters were rallying on Drexel’s campus, a counter-demonstrator holding an Israeli flag walked around the perimeter of the crowd.
Almost immediately, multiple Drexel police officers stood between the demonstrator and the protestors. The counter-demonstrator then entered a verbal altercation with a pro-Palestine attendee over a voice recording of an alleged member of Hamas telling his mother he had killed 10 Jewish people that was posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, by the Israeli Defense Forces.
As the rally-goers marched from Drexel's campus to the Broken Button on Penn’s campus, the group chanted, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
Critics of this chant argue that it propagates antisemitic beliefs and the desire to eliminate the state and people of Israel, whereas proponents say that the line outlines the boundaries of a desired independent Palestinian state.
Rally-goers also chanted, "Smash the settler Zionist state," "Long live the Intifada," and "Every time the media lies, a neighborhood in Gaza dies."
While the demonstrators were chanting on Penn's campus, lawyer Ben Weinberger walked through the center of the ongoing demonstration and filmed the crowd as speeches continued. Rally-goers began to film Weinberger and followed him as he made his way through the protest. Weinberger then approached two Penn police officers.
"Do you have any comprehension of what you're saying?" Weinberger asked one of the rally-goers who followed him.
Weinberger posted his video of the demonstration to X following the protest. He told the DP that his decision to film and post the video was to condemn language of the chants and hold attendees accountable for their participation.
"The problem is a lack of tolerance, a lack of understanding, and a lack of willingness to accept that Israel exists," Weinberger told the DP. "It needs to exist, and you can’t call for it to be eliminated.”
At least 10 Drexel and Philadelphia police officers were present as the demonstrators marched to the Split Button, where Penn Police and Open Expression observers were located.
The demonstration on Wednesday was the third rally in support of Palestine to take place at Penn this month. Previously, pro-Palestine community members held demonstrations on Oct. 16 and Oct. 18 at Penn where they showed solidarity with Palestine and criticized Magill's recent statements that have not acknowledged Palestinian students on campus. Both rallies were met with pro-Israel counter-demonstrations.
On Oct. 21, thousands of people gathered in Center City, calling for a ceasefire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas and an end to Israeli occupation. The rally was organized by the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition.