Students and children in Gaza thank pro-Palestinian protesters at US college campuses


Photo: Palestinian children in Rafah, Gaza, show their gratitude to pro-Palestinian protesters in the US on April 28, 2024. Tareq Alhelou/CNN

By Tareq Alhelou, Kareem Khadder, Abeer Salman and Zeena Saifi, CNN

Dozens of Palestinian students and children staged a display of solidarity at a demonstration in southern Gaza on Sunday to express gratitude for the support seen on US college campuses in recent weeks.

Video from the Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah shows children holding banners with messages that read: “Students of Columbia University, continue to stand by us” and, “Violating our right to education and life is a war crime.”

The students gathered around makeshift tents near a school that now serves as a shelter for Palestinians displaced from northern Gaza. Footage shows people spray-painting messages of gratitude on the fabric of the tents. “Thank you, students in solidarity with Gaza. Your message has reached (us),” says one of the messages.

Takfeer Abu-Yousuf, a displaced student from Beit Hanoun in Northern Gaza, told CNN from the camp he felt it was necessary to thank the students in the US who “supported us with their humanity.”

“Those are thank you messages on our tents, those tents that don’t protect us from the heat or cold. The least we can do is thank them. We can’t write these thank you messages on the walls of our homes because we have no homes. They have been destroyed on top of our children, elders, and women,” he said.

A man in Rafah, Gaza, writes a message of thanks to student protesters in the US on April 27, 2024.AFP/Getty Images

Eighteen-year-old Rana Al-Taher pointed to the school in the camp, telling CNN that what should have been a place for learning and education has become a place for sheltering.

“That means that we have lost our education. We have lost our only hope in Gaza and we want it back. We’re here to ask for it back. It’s our right to have it back… that’s why we’re here,” she said.

According to the UN, there have been “direct hits” on more than 200 schools in Gaza since Israel’s bombardment began. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has said that “no education is happening in Gaza at all for nearly six months.”

In a recent report, UN experts decried the “systemic obliteration” of Gaza’s education system.

“The persistent, callous attacks on educational infrastructure in Gaza have a devastating long-term impact on the fundamental rights of people to learn and freely express themselves, depriving yet another generation of Palestinians of their future,” the experts said.

First-year university student Bayan Al-Fiqhi told CNN she has not been able to attend her classes at her university in Cairo since the war in Gaza began and was very appreciative to students in the US for “staging their solidarity protest.”

“We hope they add pressure on Israel and the US to stop the bloodbath that is taking place in the Gaza Strip and to prevent the invasion of Rafah,” she added.

The fate of Rafah has been hanging over the 1.3 million Palestinians displaced there. There have been weeks of speculation around when Israel might begin its anticipated military operation in the city. The UN has repeatedly warned against an Israeli ground invasion, saying an offensive “could lead to slaughter” in the southern region.

Twenty-one-year-old Nowar Diab told CNN she lamented the impact Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has had on her academic pursuits.

“I was supposed to be a graduate this year. I studied English and French literature at Al-Azhar university, but Al-Azhar university got bombarded… this war stood like a border between me and my dreams and the beginning of my career,” she said.

“Today I am standing here to tell the whole world that we, Gazan students, go through pain and we suffer every single day,” she added.

Diab said that despite the brutality of Israel’s war, the resilience and determination of Gazan students to persevere was clear for the world to see.

Prayers for peace

Elsewhere in Gaza, dozens of Palestinian Christians celebrated Orthodox Palm Sunday by attending mass at the Church of Saint Porphyrius, the oldest in Gaza City, and praying for peace.

Videos show men, women, children, and the elderly singing prayers inside the church, asking for peace to prevail over Gaza. Children are seen dressed up, carrying flowers and candles, and playing in the churchyard decorated with palm trees.

Gaza City resident Khader Nasrawi, who attended the church celebrations, told CNN he is hoping for a “better tomorrow.”

“We are celebrating the holiday this year while there is a lump in our hearts and wounds for the loss of our loved ones and our homes throughout this brutal war…We are asking for the world to give us peace because we are peace-loving people. Jesus Christ called for peace and love, as did all other religions,” he added.

Another resident, Ihab Ayad, told CNN he was injured by an Israeli airstrike that hit the church’s campus in October last year.

Ayab said despite what he’s been through, he remains “united and steadfast” with his Palestinian community.

“This holiday is different for us, because of the tragedy of the war that the Palestinian people have suffered from, whether they are Christian or Muslim. The occupation doesn’t distinguish between Christian or Muslim, it is a criminal assault,” he said.

Not too far away from the church, residents and eyewitnesses told CNN an Israeli airstrike Sunday hit a four-story residential building in the Yarmouk neighborhood in Gaza City. They said the Israeli military gave them a warning before the strike, and there were no casualties.