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Protest held in Conway in support of Palestine

Students hold signs to support Palestine outside of Conway City Hall.
Josie Lenora
Little Rock Public Radio
Students hold signs to support Palestine outside of Conway City Hall on Wednesday.

Students and professors in the Conway area held a protest for Palestine on Wednesday night. The protest started at the Hendrix College campus, then a group of about 50-60 students walked a little over a mile to the Conway City Hall.

The protest was peaceful with very few counter-protestors. During the walk across town, students chanted phrases like “free Palestine” and “no more money for Israel's crimes.”

The protest was over the events surrounding a terrorist attack on Oct. 7, 2023. Hamas-led militants launched an attack on the nation of Israel killing about 1,200 Israelis and taking over 200 hostages. This was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Israel quickly retaliated and has now been at war with Hamas for over six months. In those six months, The Israeli military is said to have killed over 30,000 Palestinians. That number comes from Gaza's health ministry which is controlled by Hamas.

The United States has been giving military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza. A recent aid package gave $26 billion to Israel and $9 billion in humanitarian aid to Gaza. Many college students across the country are protesting the United States giving military aid to Israel and calling for universities to divest in funding companies with ties to Israel.

Protesters in Conway showed solidarity with the movement, describing the events in Palestine as a genocide. Their call and response chants involved calling out the president directly. One chant was “Biden, Biden you can't hide. We charge you with genocide.”

The group named Republican Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton as a large source of their frustration. Cotton has been very outspoken in supporting Israel. He signed on to a letter with other lawmakers condemning the protests across college campuses as antisemitic.

Cotton appeared on Fox News the night of the Hendrix protest, saying that “America and Israel stand for everything that's good among nations.” On Thursday, after the protest, he announced support for a bill that would prohibit students who are arrested during campus protests from having their student loans forgiven.

The protesters chanted “Tom Cotton's speaking lies, we charge you with genocide.”

When they started walking, event organizers asked their members to ignore counter protesters. As they walked a mile through town, a few people yelled phrases like “baby killer” and “no one is listening” to them. There was some back-and-forth between a protestor and patrons of a restaurant, but there wasn't any physical violence.

Volunteers from the National Lawyers Guild were there. They wore green hats and were neutral observers to the protest. They were at the event just in case anyone was arrested, but that didn't happen.

When the group reached City Hall, a few people got up to give speeches, including Izat El Amoor, a Palestinian Hendrix professor.

“Don't let anyone tell you this started on October 7th,” he said. “It has been going on for 75 years and it has been endless human rights violations.”

He told the students not to underestimate their agency.

“Antisemitism is rooted in white Christian colonial expansion,” he said. Justin Barringer, an adjunct professor of religion at Hendrix, shouted from the crowd:

“As a Christian pastor, I agree."

“Student movements are insanely powerful,” he said. “As someone who teaches about social movements, I can tell you for a fact that there has not been a point in history where student movements were wrong.”

The other speeches focused on calls for peace in Israel and Palestine.

Disclaimer: Josie Lenora graduated from Hendrix College in 2019.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.