BHS students walk out in support of Palestine

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023 at 10:30 a.m., over 150 Berkeley High School students walked out in support of Palestine in regards to the recent events in Israel and Gaza.


On Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023 at 10:30 a.m., over 150 Berkeley High School students walked out in support of Palestine in regards to the recent events in Israel and Gaza.

The walkout was planned by two BHS seniors, Nur Makdisi and Muhammad Delgado. While attending a protest organized by Bears for Palestine, a UC Berkeley activism organization, Makdisi and Delgado received flyers from the Arab Resource Organization Center promoting a national protest on Oct. 18 for high schoolers to walk out in support of Palestine. This spurred them to organize a walkout at BHS.

“As a Palestinian, I felt it was really important to bring awareness to what was happening and bring the truth,” Makdisi said. “It’s just something that’s really important to me.”

On Saturday, Oct. 7 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, firing thousands of rockets and executing an air, sea, and land attack. Hamas is a militant group that has been the ruling power of the Gaza Strip since 2007 and is a designated terrorist group by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.  

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel launched a series of retaliatory air strikes, and as of Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, the Israeli military made incursions into the Gaza Strip.

According to the Israeli government, since Oct. 7, more than 1,400 people in Israel, including civilians, have been killed, primarily from the initial Hamas attack. The Israeli government has also reported over 200 people as taken hostage by Hamas, of which four have reportedly been released.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the Palestinian death toll, including both civilians and soldiers, has now passed 8,000 people, as of November 1. Israel has severely limited the Gaza Strip’s access to emergency aid, with a shortage of clean water, food, fuel, medicine, and other vital supplies fueling a humanitarian crisis.

The walkout gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park next to BHS, where Makdisi and Delgado spoke briefly, then began leading students in a march towards the UC Berkeley campus. Throughout the crowd, chants of “Free, free Palestine,” “Stop bombing Gaza,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” could be heard. After reaching UC Berkeley, Makdisi, Delgado, and Rebecca Villagran, a BHS history teacher, spoke to the crowd.

BHS students found themselves there for many reasons.

“It’s important to remember that almost everyone here is here because they’re concerned about the death of other people,” said …Evan Fitzhugh, a BHS senior, “The problem that we are protesting is that there are innocent people dying in an attack on terrorism, and that’s the wrong. … The solution to the deaths of civilians is not the deaths of more civilians.”

Lucia Sweet Fuentes, a BHS freshman echoed that sentiment. “I’m out here because this is bigger than school,” Sweet Fuentes said. “It’s people dying, innocent people, and it doesn’t matter what side you’re on. It’s war and that’s awful and you should stand up against that.”

While many students attended as an effort to speak up about recent events, the conflict has been ongoing for years. This reality is a big part of what prompted Makdisi and Delgado to organize the walkout.

“If you look at the entire history, if you go back to 1948, even before 1948, you will realize Hamas is just a symptom of the occupation,” Makdisi said. “After years of apartheid, after years of unfair treatment, revolution is going to happen. It’s inevitable … But Israel’s response to what Hamas did … it’s a genocide, there’s no other word for it.”

“I’m Jewish and my family is pro-Israel, but I feel pretty strongly that Israel is in the wrong here,” Abby Schwarz, a BHS junior said. “I just feel like I should be doing something against the acts of terrorism and genocide that Israel is committing.”

Present at the walkout were various teachers and administrators watching from the sidelines. Additionally, at Civic Center Park, standing behind student leaders, were several adults holding up an Israeli flag.  

One counter-protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to protect her three children in BUSD schools, spoke about how the conflict is leading to anti-semitic rhetoric. “My kids feel unsafe wearing anything that would signify that they’re Jewish,” the parent said. “They don’t feel well supported by the school.”

The conflict bears deep ties to many issues of identity, and as tensions are exacerbated, anti-semitism and Islamophobic and Palestinian hate have been felt to increase by community members. As reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, this hostility has been furthered by the rampant spread of misinformation and disinformation through social media and disreputable news sources.

“What I’ve been seeing is people on Instagram just reposting the first headline they see without fact-checking,” Makdisi said. “For example, the headline that Hamas killed, or beheaded, 40 babies – I saw like 5 people repost that and that was false. But it already did damage. … Palestinians are now being called baby killers.”

The allegations of the beheadings have not been verified, and after a spokesperson for the Israeli government initially confirmed the statement, the government later shared that they had not confirmed the claims. Despite this, the information has continued to spread across social media under the guise of fact.

In regards to the walkout and the conflict in general, Enikia Ford Morthel, the Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent, shared a community statement prior to the walkout on Oct.18. “We respect and support the First Amendment rights of our students to peacefully advocate for causes that are important to them,” Ford Morthel said. “This is not a district-sanctioned event.”

Students across the BHS community have felt the impacts of the conflict, and many believe that remaining independently educated is critical to engaging in positive discussions and healing as a community.

“It’s very important, especially for students our age, to get involved in activism,” Sofia Sanchez, a BHS sophomore, said. “This is the world we live in and we need to … understand.”