University Students in Mexico Launch First Gaza Solidarity Encampment

The largest university in LATAM has started the first pro-Palestine student encampment in LATAM

Mexico Palestine Israel Protest

A quinceanera, known as a girl that is celebrating her fifteenth birthday, poses for a photo with members of Mexico's Palestinian community, at the base of the Angel of Independence monument, during a protest against Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip, in Mexico City, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. It is part of Mexico City quinceanera tradition for the birthday girl to have her portrait made in her gown at the monument. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

Solidarity with Palestine throughout the last few months has spread throughout the world and now Latin America is seeing its first solidarity encampment. Over the past seven months, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and injured at least 78,000, according to the Palestinian health ministry, in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack on October 7 that left 1,400 people dead in Southern Israel. While there have been many pro-Palestine protests throughout the world, everything changed on April 17 when students at Columbia University in New York City established a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” urging their university to divest from Israel. The movement has spread across the U.S., with students from over 120 colleges participating even in the face of violent police retaliation and 2,100 arrests.

Now Mexico has sparked the first of these pro-Palestine movements in LATAM. On May 2, students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, the largest university in LATAM, started their own pro-Palestine encampment. They share many of the same goals as their U.S. peers, demanding an end to the Palestinian genocide and Zionist occupation, an end to Mexico’s diplomatic and economic relationship with Israel, an end to UNAM and Israel’s educational relationship, an end to the violence against the pro-Palestine movement, and the release of student protestors who have been arrested, according to the Spain-based newspaper El País.

“Here and now, we are creating a precedent and a memory. It may seem like I’m speaking with air of grandeur, but history is not made from the grandiloquent narrative taught in classrooms. Rather, it is when someone decides to imagine that things can be otherwise. Mexican students are not going to put an end to the government of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but we are going to take a stand with our voices and bodies in an aesthetic, narrative, discursive act of saying: ‘Here we are,'” UNAM student Karime Rajme told El País.

Founded in 1551, UNAM has had a long history of student protests, becoming a symbol of the wider LATAM student movement. In 1968, for example, students spent three months protesting police repression, corruption, and violence perpetuated by the administration of then-President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz through fairs, street theater, and silent marches on the UNAM campus. There was further unrest in 1999 when students went on strike for a whole year to protest a rise in tuition and new graduation restrictions. For years, student advocacy has been UNAM’s foundation and the pro-Palestine encampment is no different. Additionally, people of Mexico and the Indigenous rebel organization of the Zapatistas declared support for Palestine during the 2014 Gaza War, seeing the similarity of the Indigenous struggle.

“We, as Indigenous [people], know very well that what occurs [in Gaza] is not a ‘conflict’, but an extermination war against the Palestinian people. When Palestinians will rise up and resist again, they will know that the Zapatista peoples, despite geographical distance, are embracing Palestinians today with our collective heart, as we have always done,” Comandante Tacho of the Zapatista National Liberation Army told representatives of 300 autonomous communities during a meeting at the Realidad Trinidad community in the Lacandon Jungle at the time.

This latest encampment is set up between the rector’s office and library, arguably two of the most important buildings on the UNAM campus, the encampment is currently made up of 40 tents and a free kitchen, with hundreds of participants across backgrounds and religions, most notably Muslim and Jewish students, though it is also open to the public. Besides occupying the lawn, protestors are split into teams that are responsible for security, supplies, media outreach, and first aid. There are some ground rules including restrictions on alcohol, drugs, and sex in order to preserve the politically active atmosphere. Unlike in the U.S., there is no police presence on campus, encouraging the students to stay until at least next week. For now, their primary goal is to continue spreading the student encampment movement in support of Palestine and advocate for an end to the ongoing Israel-backed genocide.

“UNAM carries a lot of weight, politically, both inside and outside the country, we hope that other schools will be inspired. I think that this could grow into other people following the same path,” added UNAM student Renata Aguilar to El País.

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