Editor’s note: Because students at other universities had their personal information leaked as a result of their views, City on a Hill Press will not publish speakers or interviewees names or identifying characteristics.

Students and community members rallied at UC Santa Cruz for the liberation of Palestinians, and to mourn the people killed under decades of Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The Oct. 16 rally and the following evening vigil were organized by the UCSC chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). 

At noon, about 200 participants marched from the Quarry Plaza to McHenry Library, where representatives from UCSC SJP, the Revolutionary Student Organization, and other student activist organizations gave speeches through a bullhorn. 

“We know that there is a lot of support within the Santa Cruz community for our movement, but there just hasn’t been a unifying force yet,” an organizer told City on a Hill Press. “We want to help organize and bring about a community here so we can work together to end the occupation.” 

Other groups attended in solidarity, including Anakbayan Santa Cruz, the Armenian Student Association, and the Mauna Kea Protectors. 

The rally and vigil came in the wake of violence that erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip in early October.

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack targeted at southern Israel, killing around 1,200 Israeli citizens and taking over 200 people hostage. 

In response, the Israeli government formally declared war on Hamas on Oct. 8, launching relentless missile strikes. The strikes continue to destroy access to food, water, power, and medical supplies for 2.3 million civilians in Gaza.

On Oct. 13, the Israeli military ordered the mass evacuation of 1 million civilians in Gaza within 24 hours, an order that the United Nations labeled as a “crime against humanity and blatant violation of international humanitarian law.” 

Ongoing Israeli missile strikes have killed over 11,000 Palestinians, according to Reuters.

Organizers spoke to City on a Hill Press about the greater context of the Israeli occupation in Gaza, highlighting the historical violence and threat against Palestinian life. 

“[The rally] is about justice for the people, so that they don’t have to live worrying about ‘Are we going to have enough electricity today?’ ‘Are we going to get clean water?’ ‘Is my grandma’s house going to get bombed tomorrow?’” one of the organizers said. “It goes a lot beyond that, and I think it’s important that we fight [for] all human beings here and abroad.” 

The evening vigil saw about 100 attendees gather at the Quarry Plaza. The rock in the Quarry was covered with Palestinian flags and signs that read “UC DIVEST” and “LAND BACK.” 

The vigil began with a prayer offering for the Palestinian lives lost during the recent violence in Gaza and since Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which began in 1948, as well as a moment of silence. Some of the organizers spoke to the crowd, with one of the closing speakers ending with a reading of the poem “The War Will End” by Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish. 

Organizers then opened up the space for students to write messages in chalk on the ground of the Quarry Plaza. Organizers passed out tealight candles for student attendees to place around the rock.

While the tone of the vigil was solemn, many found solace in the strength of the Palestinian community. 

“What brings me hope and what brings many of the people that I’ve spoken with some hope is truly the resilience of the people,” a speaker at the vigil said. “We see people surviving, rising from the rubble.”

Gwenyth Rodriguez and Kyle Keller contributed additional reporting.