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UWPD separates demonstrators supporting Palestine from counter-protestors supporting Israel during a moment of heightened tension.

Madison demonstrators hold rallies supporting Palestinians, decry Israel's response to Oct. 7 attacks

Following last Saturday’s attacks against Israel, Madison supporters of Palestine urged an end to Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip during multiple demonstrations last week.

This article is a part of The Daily Cardinal's ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Our student reporters are dedicated to covering the events and responses happening across the University of Wisconsin-Madison community. The content in this story does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of the Cardinal.

In a series of demonstrations this week, Madison supporters of Palestine called for the end of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories and criticized what they said were unequal narratives surrounding the escalating war between Hamas and Israel. 

Hamas, the ruling militant group of Palestine, first perpetrated surprise terrorist attacks against Israel last Saturday. More than 2,300 people in Gaza and the West Bank have died following Israel’s bombardment of the strip as of Sunday, according to Reuters

Hamas is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. 

Upwards of 1,300 Israelis have been pronounced dead and over 100 have been taken hostage as of Sunday. Last Saturday marks the largest single-day death toll of Jewish people since the Holocaust, according to The Guardian

Madison for Palestine, which describes itself as an “anti-imperialist collective,” played a part in organizing demonstrations which occurred on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday last week. Most participants declined to be identified or preferred to remain anonymous.  

Ashley, who preferred to be identified solely by her first name, was a co-organizer of last Sunday’s event, telling The Daily Cardinal the intention was to raise awareness of what Palestinians face every day. 

“Our resistance is justified, our people are occupied — I know these are platitudes, but it's a reality,” Ashley said. “Palestinians will not die quietly.”

She refuted claims of antisemitism and asserted the group is opposed to “stealing something that doesn’t belong to [them] and doing it violently,” likening Israel’s treatment of Palestine to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's treatment of the Ho-Chunk nation. 

Banner drop on Friday

Attendees at a “banner drop” event Friday on the Campus Drive pedestrian bridge displayed flags with messages such as “Free Palestine” and “70 years of resistance to colonialism, occupation and genocide.”


Protestors display banners on the pedestrian footbridge over Campus Drive during a Friday, Oct. 13 demonstration.

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Michele Bahl was one such attendee. A Madison resident who has been to Palestine three times on delegations for nonprofit group Interfaith Peace Builders, Bahl emphasized her Jewish identity and said she attended two pro-Palestine events last week as someone who went to the Gaza Strip in 2012.

Skirmishes between Israel and Palestine have increased “every single year,” Bahl said. She recounted going to the funeral of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who died after being struck by an Israeli strike.

Bahl and members of the organization were “horrified” to hear that Israel ordered an evacuation of the northern Gaza territory Friday morning. 

“Someone I know here has a cousin that’s been killed,” Bahl said. She urged people to remember that the population of Gaza is young — the median age of residents is 18 years, according to Al Jazeera — and predominantly civilian. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she added.

Bahl emphasized the history of Palestine’s occupation and the validity of Palestinian resistance.

“They have every right to resist. They’ve been under occupation, illegal occupation, for 75 years, and they have every right to resist.”

Rally on Tuesday

Approximately 100 people attended the Tuesday demonstration to support Palestinians in front of Memorial Library. The event, organized by UW-Madison students, featured call and response chants like “Palestinian heroism, not Zionist terrorism” and “by any means necessary.”

Some people passing through Library Mall voiced their agreement with the demonstration, with a group of bikers calling out “F— Israel” as they passed. The crowd, which grew over time, was bolstered by various organizations such as Madison for Palestine and students who said they had personal connections in Gaza.

“My grandparents were forced out of Palestine in 1948,” said a demonstrator who asked to remain anonymous. “And my grandfather was forced out of Gaza again in 1967.”

Multiple people said they gathered Tuesday to use their voices in support of the people in Gaza who could not speak, and to show that Palestinians have a presence in Madison.

“I’m Palestinian,” one student told the Cardinal. “I had to be here.”

At one point, the protest grew tense when a group of pro-Israel counterprotesters approached. UWPD officers moved to intervene as the two parties came increasingly close to each other and exchanged heated words.

“You killed my sister. Her blood is on your hands.” said one student, who held a sign saying “Hamas kills children.” 

Many in attendance took aim at what they said is biased coverage in Western media. Demonstrators criticized the framing of Hamas’s actions as “unprovoked” and what they see as a tendency to only cover the Israel-Hamas war when Israel is attacked. 

“Now [they’re] paying attention to it because both sides are hurting,” a student told the Cardinal. “But the Palestinians have been hurting every single day since 1948, and even before then. Whether it’s Gaza being bombarded [or the] Israeli military going into the homes of Palestinians in the West Bank — it's everywhere and it's everyday in Palestine.”

Some demonstrators argued that Israel’s ”brutal occupation” constitutes genocide and war crimes. The United Nations Security Council, which includes the United States, voted unanimously in 1967 to classify Israel’s presence in Palestinian Territories as an occupation. 

Gaza, a strip of land between Israel and Egypt, is among the world's most densely populated territories, according to NBC News. Israel has maintained a full blockade of Gaza since 2007 with the stated purpose of protecting Israel from Hamas, which assumed control of the strip in 2006. 

The blockade restricts movement to and from Gaza and has been called an “open air prison” by Human Rights Watch. 

Since Wednesday, Israel has imposed a “complete siege” that has cut off food, water, electricity and gas for people living in Gaza. According to United Nations experts, collective punishment amounts to a war crime, which demonstrators echoed.

“[Israel’s been] using phosphorus chemical weapons that have been banned — the same weapons that have been used in genocide on Jews, Muslims,” a speaker shouted, referencing a Washington Post report that Israel used white phosphorous during a Wednesday strike on Gaza City.

White phosphorus, a chemical commonly used to mark targets, can severely burn people and set fire to structures when used against civilians. The chemical is not explicitly banned under international humanitarian law, but states are customarily asked to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm from its use, according to Human Rights Watch.

American military aid to Israel was another subject of criticism, with demonstrators calling the United States “complicit” in Israel’s actions and calling for a termination of aid. Speakers criticized President Joe Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel who elicited a chorus of jeers, as well as U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who they lambasted as warmongers. 

“You have the most sophisticated weapons in the world,” one pro-Palestine demonstrator said to a pro-Israel counterprotestor.

“You’re brainwashed,” the counterprotester replied.

The demonstrations Tuesday in front of Memorial Library occupied the same space that a candlelight vigil for Israel had on Sunday. Participants at both events sought to highlight the human cost of the conflict, though each diverged on which party was culpable. 

Multiple speakers said that the situation Palestinians face should horrify all people, regardless of nationality. 

“Someone doesn’t even have to be Palestinian to realize that there's an evil being committed here,” a student told the Cardinal. “You just have to see that there is an unequal amount of resources on the Palestinian side compared to the Israeli side.” 

Editor's note: This article was updated 8:01 p.m. Tuesday, October 17, to remove a sentence that said Hamas wasn't mentioned at the protests.

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Gavin Escott

Gavin Escott is the campus news editor for the Daily Cardinal. He has covered protests, breaking news and written in-depth on Wisconsin politics and higher education. He is the former producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.

Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.

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