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May 14, 2024 by JAMES CROXTON

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This year’s Mother’s Day brought pro-Israel counter-protests to pro-Palestine “Liberated Zones” on college campuses — and Stanford University was one of them. 

Similar to what occurred at the University of Washington in Seattle, pro-Israel individuals and organizations coordinated to march to pro-Palestine encampments in what more often than not amounted to campaigns of intimidation and actual violence. 

Here in Palo Alto, the Students Against Apartheid in Palestine (SAAP) began posting on their Instagram, calling for a camp defense, several days before the planned confrontation that was organized by the L’Chaim Club-Chabad at Stanford. 

Students and activists gather to defend the pro-Palestine encampment.

At the 2 p.m. start time, campers and those who arrived for the defense began chants including “Resistance is justified when people are occupied” and “There is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

A land acknowledgment quickly followed, paying tribute to the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe who first occupied the land the university now sits on. During the acknowledgment, the speaker iterated how the Indigenous struggle here in the United States is akin to the genocide of the Palestinian people by Israel. 

Following the land acknowledgment, there was a warning to all of those who had come for the defense: any type of xenophobia and antisemitism was prohibited, and those who participated in either would be asked to leave. 

A little after 2:20 p.m., the “Liberated Zone” got their first taste of a counter-protest: a single man wielding an Israeli flag on a pole, shouting “rapists” at everyone and anyone present through his megaphone. In response, some protesters yelled “child killer” while others motioned for a ceasing of the back-and-forth. 

A pro-Israel demonstrator holding a flag at the encampment.

Additionally, there was another pro-Israel counter-protester sitting on the back side of the “Liberated Zone” with two handmade signs telling passersby that a vote for anyone but current President of the United States Joe Biden was a vote for former President Donald Trump. 

Wonder what he’d say if you asked “OK, but what’s happening to Gaza right now?”

Notably, there was minimal law enforcement presence at the time, which has been the norm for the Stanford “Liberated Zone.” The presence has mostly consisted of senior-aged unarmed guards with Apex Security Group. 

By 2:30 p.m., there were a dozen-or-so counter-protesters present. They stood near, or on, one of the lawns of Lasuen Mall, where the White Memorial Fountain is located, with their Israeli flags on poles or their backs.

Shortly thereafter, as speakers continued at the White Memorial Fountain, a.k.a. “The Claw,” a crowd of over 2,000 people—notably with armed Stanford Sheriff’s deputies and additional unarmed Apex Security guards—streamed towards the main stage at White Plaza. They had even reserved the spot through the university. 

For those on the ground, it became quickly apparent that the counter-protest outnumbered those at the “Liberated Zone” three-to-one, if not more. There were several hundred, many wielding both Israeli and U.S. flags. 

That being said, there was very little direct confrontation between the two opposing sides aside from verbal spats. 

The first, and really only significant moment of confrontation, was when two pro-Palestine supporters tried to walk towards the “Liberated Zone” from off campus. The two keffiyeh-wearing individuals were immediately harassed by pro-Israel counter-protesters and repeatedly told to remove their masks and identify themselves.

It’s important to note that there were individuals associated with SAAP walking and giving out masks considering the large crowd and risk of further spreading COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

For the next hour-and-half there the two groups were separated by the pedestrian-bike path through campus and part of Lasuen Mall which included a lawn lined with white chairs featuring the photos and names of those taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. It wasn’t long before the space around the lawn had been occupied by defenders of the camp and drummers.

A display about the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7th last year.

Lining the pedestrian-bike path were guards with Apex Security Group and the Stanford Sheriffs who had arrived with the pro-Israel crowd. Both forces acted like the path was a demilitarized zone and that people—including credentialed members of the press—couldn’t walk freely and it had to be empty. 

Around 3:30 p.m., a half hour before both rallies were scheduled to end, the counter-protest abruptly began to leave and go back to where they had first started on another part of the university campus. 

According to mainstream reports, they left after “campus security told [the university’s Chabad Rabbi] that there was a security concern.”  

Students and activists remain at the “Liberated Zone” as of this writing.

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