Editor’s Note: Corrections have been made to this article: the Gaza in Context event happened on October 20, rather than November 10, as previously written. The academic freedom event referenced happened on November 10.
By: Anonymous Student
Content warning: mentions of genocide and death.
Members of the SFU community have been urging the university administration and Board of Governors to join the growing calls for a ceasefire in Palestine. SFU students have been calling for the university’s support for students, staff, and faculty impacted by the Israeli siege on Palestine and rising Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes (especially among anti-Zionist Jewish people).
As of November 17, the United Nations stated Israel killed over 20,000 Palestinians, with more than 1,650,000 million Gazans internally displaced. The United Nations has warned the Israeli government’s actions against Palestine may be considered genocide. As outlined by the UN security Council and general assembly resolutions from the human rights organization B’Tselem, Gaza is currently part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories which Israel illegally occupies. Since 2005, Israel has controlled air, land, and seaports, effectively having full control and surveillance over the Gaza strip. At the time of writing, Israel has started a four-day truce, but publications report that Israel has already violated ceasefire by shooting at Palestinians returning north of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also says the Israeli offensive will resume after their ceasefire.
SFU faculty and staff penned a letter condemning the escalated bombardment, continued occupation, violent siege on Gaza, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank. They state that between October 7–27, Israel dropped as many bombs as the United States did in Afghanistan. According to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israel has hit Gaza “with the equivalent of two nuclear bombs.” This amounts to a relentless rain of bombs for Gaza, which is only 365 sq km.
- “To affirm support for free speech and academic freedom, including the right of members of the SFU community to name and speak out against Israeli apartheid, the occupation of Palestine, and the genocide in Gaza.
- To heed and respond to the calls in the open letter from Birzeit University in Palestine, urging international academic institutions, to ‘not be silent about genocide.’
- To divest immediately from war contractors, including Booz Allen Hamilton, BAE Systems, and CAE Inc.,
- To divest immediately from any financial relationships with Israeli companies.”
On October 20, SFU faculty and staff members organized a “Gaza in Context” teach-in series in collaboration with dozens of universities across Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, and the US. The SFU Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies also organized an event in collaboration with various departments and universities across Canada titled “Academic Freedom under Stress: Israel, Palestine, and the Canadian University” on November 10. The communication department and the labour studies department at SFU published statements advocating against genocide in Palestine.
Similarly, students and youth are vocally calling on SFU to act. Over 20 groups and 700+ people signed the open letter published by SFU Students for Justice Palestine (SJP), including Palestinian Youth Movement, Independent Jewish Voices Youth Bloc, and other allied groups.
Student groups are holding art events, film screenings, teach-ins, vigils, and marches to raise awareness. In a written statement to The Peak, SJP and independent student organizers reported 120–150 attended the vigil and protest on November 19.
Students, staff, and faculty have expressed varying levels of distress as well, whether directly or indirectly affected. “This Nakba happened for the second time in my family,” said one community member in a post online. “In a minute, they have been stripped of almost everything they own: their homes, clothes, privacy, and everything in between.” In an interview with The Peak, students reported, “It’s been increasingly difficult to focus on [their] academics and mental health.” They elaborated, “Our posters, which call for vigils to grieve the lives of Palestinians murdered by the State of Israel and an end to settler colonialism, have been repeatedly torn down. Tearing down our posters makes us feel unsafe knowing that there are people on campus who are so strongly in favor of the massacres that the State of Israel commits.”
The SJP students’ open letter echoes the staff and faculty calls to action and emphasizes the need for specialized mental health support for those in the community who are impacted. Students also asked SFU to encourage faculty to be compassionate “in recognition of the extreme emotional distress inflicted by the violence of the state of Israel that is impacting every Palestinian family.” They are asking for the university to consider, “extended deadlines, attendance flexibility for missed classes/exams, alternatives to in-person classes, deferred coursework, and clear communication channels” as important “ways to support impacted students.”
SJP and independent student organizers told The Peak that president Joy Johnson has not officially responded to their calls to action. Johnson released a second statement on November 9, but students were quick to criticize the statement for its failure to address the internationally recognized settler-colonialism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing by the State of Israel in Palestine. The organizers highlight that the City of Burnaby has joined the global calls for an immediate ceasefire, unlike SFU. Students are urging SFU to uphold the rights of Indigenous Palestinians as determined in UNDRIP, which the university committed to “recognize and honour.”
Community members have called on the university to address safety. Students who are part of SJP describe feeling “unwelcome in certain spaces” and receiving “dirty looks at stares.” In their open letter, students demand SFU take initiative to proactively ensure the safety of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish community members on campus.