Peace Magazine: A Townhall Discusses Student Encampments

Peace Magazine

A Townhall Discusses Student Encampments

• published Jul 06, 2024 • last edit Jul 11, 2024

From the Russia-Ukraine War to novel approaches to the climate crisis, there
was one topic that overwhelmed April’s Global Town Hall and generated much discussion: pro-Palestinian protests and student encampments in North America.

Students have taken to their university campuses to protest their universities’ — and by extension their countries’ — investment into the growing death toll in Gaza. The conversation ranged widely from reconsiderations of the exercise of international law to the pervasive role of social media, and how we understand non-violent resistance.


A recurring question for the members of the town hall, the audience, and those following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is: where is the exercise of international law?

Peter Wadhams, a visiting professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin, focused on how the level of slaughter in Gaza is a major war crime that has not been met with prevention nor halting by the international community. And that the obstruction of a plethora of statutes and conventions outlining the
conduct of war, crimes against humanity, and the preservation of human rights, calls into question the efficacy and application of international law. What is far more incriminating is that this protection is codified internationally, yet disregarded intentionally.

Louis Kriesberg, professor emeritus of sociology at Syracuse University,
however, pointed out that the South African genocide case against Israel was taken to the International Court of Justice. Moreover, he said, numerous actions have been taken – from Pro-Palestinian protests to the demonstrations taking place in Israel against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Netanyahu is reviled by the majority of Israelis, who want him gone for corruption and his role in Oct. 7th. But the majority support the war to “totally defeat” Hamas.).

Metta Spencer, the moderator and editor of Peace Magazine, widened the focus on international law by asking: How do we create a world in which the rule of law has some clout?

She suggested that we intensify existing international frameworks by bringing citizens, regardless of their statehood and diversity of age, sex, occupation, and education, into the current diplomatic architecture. Further, she invited the town hall members to consider the creation of a parliamentary assembly with as much power as the UN General Assembly or the Security Council.

However, despite their doubts about the efficacy of international law,
all the speakers recommended frequently revisiting the role we give states in international diplomacy and challenging any system that fails to mitigate the atrocities perpetrated in Gaza and other parts of the world.


But while the quotes, images, and videos coming out of the Gaza Strip have drawn public outrage at the level of atrocities being committed by the IDF in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7th attack, much public discussion has concentrated on the impact of social media as well.

Before the creation and rise of social media platforms from Meta (formerly
Facebook), X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram, coverage of international events was strictly in the hands of the traditional media.

Filters, censors, and modifications to images and videos sensitized the information we were able to receive about world events such as the Vietnam War and South African Apartheid. However, as Gazans are uploading raw images and videos across social media platforms of the devastation that surrounds them, people around the world are no longer barred from the reality of the war crimes taking place in Gaza.

More powerfully than the mainstream media circulating throughout the world, these images and videos have grown more accessible, as the stark realities of the suffering on the ground are publicly exposed.

Student protests have also made a clear point about the importance of social media. The circulation of factual information and real images about the conflict is a novel form of nonviolent resistance. The reclamation of informational authority from censorship and its newfound availability is a form of resistance against propaganda, and as environmentalist and Rotary Peace Chair Richard Denton pointed out, reveals how wide-spread propaganda is.

As the death tolls in Gaza mount alarmingly each day, we must continue discussions such as these to examine how our international system works and how we, as peace activists, can do our part to save the world.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.40, No.3 Jul-Sep 2024
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