In Texas, pro-Palestine university protesters clash with state leaders – Newstrends
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In Texas, pro-Palestine university protesters clash with state leaders

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Protesters gather at Texas universities to call for divestment from firms linked to Israeli weapons [Tyler Hicks/Al Jazeera]

In Texas, pro-Palestine university protesters clash with state leaders

Austin, Texas – “It didn’t feel real.” That’s how Alishba Javaid, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, describes the moment when she saw roughly 30 state troopers walk onto the campus lawn.

Javaid and hundreds of her classmates had gathered on the grass, in the shadow of the campus’s 94-metre limestone tower, as part of a walkout against Israel’s war in Gaza.

They were hoping that their school would divest from manufacturers supplying weapons to Israel. Instead, law enforcement started to appear in increasing numbers.

By Javaid’s count, the state troopers joined at least 50 fellow officers already in place, all dressed in riot gear. The protest had been peaceful, but nerves were at a high. The troopers continued their advance.

“That was the first moment I was genuinely scared,” said Javaid, 22.

Dozens of students were ultimately arrested on April 24, as the officers attempted to disperse the protesters. Footage of the clashes between police and demonstrators quickly spread online, echoing images from other campus protests across the United States.

Yet, Texans face a unique challenge, as they contend with a far-right state government that has sought to limit protests against Israel.

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In 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits government entities from working with businesses that boycott Israel, and the state has since taken steps to tighten that law further.

Abbott has also cast the current protests as “hate-filled” and “anti-Semitic”, amplifying misconceptions about demonstrators and their goals.

In addition, a state law went into effect earlier this year that forced public universities to shutter their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices.

Multiple students and employees told Al Jazeera that campuses have become less safe for people of colour as a result of the law, which forced the departure of staff DEI advocates.

‘Using violence to subvert minorities’

The violence has continued at University of Texas campuses as students press forward with their protests.

On the final day of class, April 29, police used pepper spray and flash-bang devices to clear a crowd at the Austin campus, while dozens more were encircled by troopers and dragged away screaming.

Hiba Faruqi, a 21-year-old student, said her knee “just kept bleeding” after she was knocked over during a pushing-and-shoving match between students and police.

Student protesters applaud one another as they are released from the Travis County Jail in Austin, Texas, on April 30 [Nuri Vallbona/Reuters]

Yet she counts herself lucky for not sustaining worse injuries. It was surreal, she said, to think that her own university called in state troopers — and then had to deploy medical personnel to assist students who were hurt.

“There’s a racist element people don’t want to talk about here,” she said. “There’s a xenophobic element people don’t want to acknowledge. There are more brown protesters, which maybe emboldens the police to do things a certain way.”

As calls for divestment continue, students, lawyers and advocates told Al Jazeera they have been forced to navigate scepticism and outright hostility from the Texas government.

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“Texas is known for using violence to subvert minorities,” Faruqi said. “The reason this is shaking people this time is because it’s not working.”

Scrutiny over university endowments

Many of the protests have zeroed in on the University of Texas’s endowment, a bank of funds designed to support its nine campuses over the long term.

The University of Texas system has the largest public education endowment in the country, worth more than $40bn.

Some of that money comes from investments in weapons and defence contractors, as well as aerospace, energy and defence technology companies with deep ties to Israel.

ExxonMobil, for example, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the system’s investments, and the company has supplied Israel with fuel for its fighter jets.

Those ties have fuelled the protests across the state’s public university campuses, including a May 1 demonstration at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Fatima — who only shared her first name with Al Jazeera, out of fear for her safety — was among the demonstrators. She wiped sweat from her brow as a young child led the crowd of about 100 in a series of chants: “Free, free, free Palestine!”

The divestment protests have largely been peaceful, Fatima explained, raising her voice to be heard above the noise.

“Over 30,000 people have been murdered,” she said, referring to the death toll in Gaza, where Israel’s military campaign is entering its eighth month.

“And our university is investing in weapons manufacturing companies that are providing Israel with these weapons. We’re going to stay here until our demands are met.”

Twenty-one students and staff members were arrested that day in Dallas. Members of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, of which Fatima is a member, spent the night outside the county jail, waiting for their friends to be released.

A little boy speaks into a microphone at a pro-Palestinian protests, as "Free Palestine" flags wave.

One protester wryly noted outside the jail that they had been arrested for trespassing on their own campus, a seemingly nonsensical offence.

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In the background, a thunderstorm was beginning to rear its head, so the protesters huddled closer together under the awning.

Protesters receive community support

Texas officials and university administrators have justified the police crackdowns, in part, by citing the presence of outsiders with no present affiliation with the campuses involved.

But 30-year-old activist Anissa Jaqaman is among those visiting the university protests, in an effort to lend supplies and support.

Everyone has a role to play, Jaqaman explained: Her role is sometimes that of the communicator, but more often that of the healer.

She has brought water to the student demonstrators at the University of Texas at Dallas and hopes to provide a space for people to “come over and talk about how we heal”.

“This is a healing movement,” she said time and again as she spoke to Al Jazeera. “We have to carry each other.”

Jaqaman is Texas through and through: She was raised in the Dallas suburbs and is a strong advocate for her state.

“I’m a proud Texan,” she said. “I actually think that Texans are some of the nicest people in the country.”

But back when she was in college, from 2012 to 2016, Jaqaman started to use her voice to bring awareness to the plight of Palestinians.

Rights groups have long warned that Israel has imposed a system of apartheid against the ethnic group, subjecting its members to discrimination and displacement.

In college, Jaqaman’s friends often laughed at her passion. She often smiles, exuding optimism, but her voice grows serious as she talks about Palestine, as well as other issues like the scourge of single-use plastics.

“They just thought I was a tree-hugger, but for human rights,” she explained, speaking in a soft yet confident voice.

But the current war has amplified her concerns. The United Nations has signalled famine is “imminent” in parts of Gaza, and rights experts have pointed to a “risk of genocide” in the Palestinian enclave.

Jaqaman has sported her keffiyeh scarf ever since the war began on October 7, despite feeling anxious that it could attract violence against her.

“I wear it because I feel like it protects my heart, honestly,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing the Palestinian people injustice by not wearing it.”

But she has struggled to get public officials to engage with her concerns about the war and divestment from industries tied to Israel’s military. For months, she attempted to persuade her local city council that “this is a human issue, an everyone issue”, to little avail.

“Everything that we’re seeing right now is about shutting down the discussion,” she said. “If you say anything about Palestine, you’re labelled anti-Semitic. That’s a conversation-ender.”

Youth protesters look to the future

Students like Javaid, a journalism major in her final semester, told Al Jazeera that they are still trying to figure out what healing looks like — and what their futures might hold. In many ways, she and her friends feel stuck.

They recognise they need to take a break from scouring social media for information about the war, and yet it is all they can think about.

The usual college rites of passage — final exams, graduation and job hunting — just don’t seem as important any more.

“How are we supposed to go back to work now?” Javaid asked after the protests.

While she has treasured her time at the university, she is also highly critical of its actions to stamp out the protests. Part of the blame, she added, lies with the government, though.

“The root issue in Texas is that the state government doesn’t care,” she said.

Born and raised in the Dallas area, Javaid plans to stay in Texas for at least a little while after she graduates this month. She has mixed feelings about staying long term, though.

She would like to work in social justice, particularly in higher education, but she worries such a job would be tenuous in her home state.

Still, she feels a sense of responsibility tying her to the state. The political climate in Texas may be challenging, she said, but she has a duty — to her fellow protesters and to Palestine — to keep playing a role.

“I don’t want to jump ship and just say, ‘Texas is crazy’,” Javaid said. “I want to be a part of the people trying to make it better. Because if not us, who?”

In Texas, pro-Palestine university protesters clash with state leaders

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

International

Stage collapse in Mexico political campaign rally kills nine

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Stage collapse in Mexico political campaign rally kills nine

A stage has collapsed in heavy winds at a political campaign rally in northern Mexico.

The unforseen incident killed at least nine people, including a child, and injured 121, the governor of Nuevo Leon State said on Thursday.

The collapse occurred during an event Wednesday evening attended by presidential long-shot candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who ran to escape. Videos of the collapse on social media showed people screaming, running away, and climbing out from under metal polls.

The victims “will not be alone in this tragedy,” Máynez told reporters Wednesday night, adding that he had suspended upcoming campaign events.

Afterward, soldiers, police, and other officials roamed the grounds of the park where the event took place, while many nearby sat stunned and haunted by the tragedy.

In a video message, Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Garcia, a leading member of Máynez’s Citizens Movement party, said 94 of the injured were treated and released, but 27 remained hospitalized. State health authorities said a lot of the injuries involved skull fractures. Garcia said three victims were undergoing surgery and appeared to be in critical condition.

Garcia said the accident occurred “in a matter of seconds.”

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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said most of the injured were women. He absolved Máynez’s Citizens Movement party — widely viewed as an implicit ally of López Obrador’s Morena party — of blame even before investigations were carried out.

“We know that they are not to blame,” the president said Thursday.

Condolences poured in from across Mexico, including from the other two presidential candidates.

Máynez wrote in his social media accounts that he went to a hospital after the accident in the wealthy suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near the city of Monterrey. He said he was in good condition.

“The only important thing at this point is to care for the victims of the accident,” he wrote.

Videos of the accident showed Máynez waving his arm as the crowd chanted his name. But then he looked up to see a giant screen and metal structure toppling towards him. He ran rapidly towards the back of the stage to avoid the falling structure, which appeared to consist of relatively light framework pieces as well as what appeared to be a screen with the party’s logo and theatre-style lights.

Máynez has been running third in the polls in the presidential race, trailing both front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling Morena Party and opposition coalition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez. Both sent their condolences, and Sheinbaum cancelled a campaign event in nearby Monterrey the next day “in solidarity” with the victims and their loved ones.

“My condolences and prayers are with the families of the dead, and my wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured,” wrote Gálvez in a social media post.

The accident happened at the height of campaign season, with many events held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state, and municipal elections.

The campaign had so far been plagued by the killings of about two dozen candidates for local offices.

Stage collapse in Mexico political campaign rally kills nine

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Norway, Ireland, Spain to recognise Palestinian State May 28

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Norway, Ireland, Spain to recognise Palestinian State May 28

Norway, Ireland and Spain said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state, a historic but largely symbolic move that further deepens Israel’s isolation more than seven months into its grinding war against Hamas in Gaza. Israel immediately denounced the decisions and recalled its ambassadors to the three countries.

Palestinians welcomed the announcements as an affirmation of their decades-long quest for statehood in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war and still controls.

While some 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the United Nations — recognize a Palestinian state, Wednesday’s cascade of announcements could build momentum at a time when even close allies of Israel have piled on criticism for its conduct in Gaza.

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It was the second blow to Israel’s international reputation this week after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said he would seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister. The International Court of Justice is also considering allegations of genocide that Israel has strenuously denied.

Israel recalled its ambassadors to the three countries and summoned their envoys, accusing the Europeans of rewarding the militant Hamas group for its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the European ambassadors would watch grisly video footage of the attack.

Norway, Ireland, Spain to recognise Palestinian State May 28

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Israel denounces ICC actions, seeks global allies support

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel denounces ICC actions, seeks global allies support

Israel has called on “nations of the civilised world” to refuse to comply with any International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants issued against its leaders.

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, announced on Monday that his office had applied to a pre-trial panel for arrest warrants for three senior Hamas officials. Khan also stated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant would be sought for arrest for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the Hamas attack on October 7 and the ensuing seven-month war in Gaza.

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The announcement sparked outrage among Israeli officials, the public, and the country’s allies. In an official response on Tuesday, Israeli government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said, “We call on the nations of the civilised, free world – nations who despise terrorists and anyone who supports them – to stand by Israel. You should outright condemn this step.”

Heinrich continued, “Make sure the ICC understands where you stand. Oppose the prosecutor’s decision and declare that, even if warrants are issued, you do not intend to enforce them. Because this is not about our leaders. It’s about our survival.”

The ICC prosecutor emphasized that while Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas, this does not “absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

Israel denounces ICC actions, seeks global allies support

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