The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

UNC Asheville students mourn the lives of Palestinians

A light pole on the Quad with anti-war sentiment.

Several students gathered, Nov. 14, 2023, on UNC Asheville’s quad to write out the names of Palestinian lives lost from Oct. 7 to 27, 2023. 

“I’ve done chalking stuff in the past for police abolition and figured that maybe the same technique would be helpful here, to draw the connections between the two struggles,” said Blu Buchanan, an assistant professor with the sociology and anthropology department who organized the chalking event. 

Directly in front of the library, a large Palestinian flag was drawn. The list began near the footsteps of the Ramsey Library and went across the quad, ending near the base of the flagpole. The quad’s list only included the names of those six years and younger. The original list of names went up to age 100. Several students stopped to help write names. Buchanan and others began at approximately 9 a.m. and did not finish until later that evening, due to the extensive list of names. According to Buchanan, many people are often unaware of ways to get involved in international conflicts and supplying means of support. Chalking is a way people can accessibly act in support of Palestine, in order to draw attention to the ongoing violence. 

“I was really looking for folks to have a way to tangibly participate because we’ve been inundated with the numbers and watching videos. People have heard sound clips, but I think a lot of folks feel disempowered without having tangible actions to take part in,” Buchanan said. 

The next day, on Nov. 15, 2023, the UNCA Students for a Democratic Society, a progressive organization dedicated to mobilizing and organizing the student body gathered outside the  Ramsey Library to call on the campus to divest funds from the military industrial complex. Amongst the speakers present were Clark, a member of the local Muslim American community, a member of Young Democratic Socialists of America, SDS vice president Marcos Martinez and SDS president Alex Severa. Campus police stood near the front doors of the Lipinsky building, watching from across the quad.

According to Severa, 22, the university and greater UNC system are compliant in the United States’ support of the Israeli military, through their relationship with the South Asheville Pratt & Whitney plant. 

“We know from anonymous sources that the former chancellor bragged to the business department on the mechatronics department’s involvement with the Pratt & Whitney deal. These are anonymous sources, and as such we can’t confirm or deny their validity, so we focus on what we do know. When we look at the state, one of its largest industries is war production. Defense embassy advocacy groups consider it one of the largest partners in the state. We’re talking about the NC Defense Alliance, which represents Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, all of these other groups. It considers the UNC system one of the greatest assets in the state,” Severa said. 

According to Severa, SDS demands full transparency into the UNC system’s private equity, which makes up 27 percent of its 10 billion dollar investment capital. On Nov. 13, 2023, SDS sent a letter to the board of directors and trustees at UNCA to end their work with the Department of Defense and to divest from companies that assist in weapon research and production. 

“The UNC system is involved with research for the Department of Defense. That is undeniable. What we’re calling on right now is to stop working with the Department of Defense and we want to see where the campus’ investments are going. We demand honesty from the campus. I don’t think that is an unreasonable demand. I think what would have to occur is a full audit of the endowment and special funds, the investments. A full audit, every last dime and penny in that endowment, in that investment, we want to see it. All of the things that the Department of Defense builds and these weapon companies build goes right to Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia. Something like 83 percent of the IDF’s equipment was produced in the United States between 1983 and 2020. ” Severa said. 

During a speech given by Severa at the event, adjunct assistant professor Jamie Johnson approached the body of participating students to express an opposing perspective. She left shortly after sharing their sentiment. 

“Israel is not a regime! Fucking psycho,” said Johnson, directly addressing Servera. 

According to Johnson, many of those who are outwardly pro-Palestinain fail to recognize the nuances of the conflict. Many, including the UNCA and Asheville community, fail to recognize an Israeli perspective.

“I’ve been following the conflict all of my life. I’m Jewish. I stand with Israel, but I think that it is horrible what’s going on. I feel terrible for the innocent Palestinians. I don’t think that one life is more valuable than another, but I do think Israel is being demonized,” said Johnson, on the Ramsey Library steps, wearing a Star of David necklace. “I think that the media is focusing on the suffering of Palestinians right now due to media coverage. Those are the images we’re getting, that we’re being bombarded with, and I think we’re not getting images of the suffering going on with hostages in the tunnels, with the people who were massacred on Oct. 7, and I think that is problematic.”

According to Severa, Johnson’s statement was inappropriate and her actions can be partly attributed to a one-sided, biased perspective fostered by modern media algorithms. Severa did not communicate with Johnson after the altercation, however. 

“People invest themselves very heavily into what they believe, regardless of whether those beliefs are natural, artificial or planted. People are very committed to their beliefs. To this professor, her viewpoint and her belief constitute a central part, either small or large, of her being, of her way of existing in the world,” said Severa. “It comes from a perspective of never having this viewpoint challenged. It’s kind of amazing because all of our Palestinian speakers, all of our queer speakers, all of the people that are directly affected by this in a very visceral way are all very calm, yet we had a professor call students ‘fucking psychos.’ It also emerges out of having that constructed echo chamber. It just shows a level of immaturity that I think is unacceptable. I have professors that I disagree with. In the anthropology department, there’s a wide spectrum of different viewpoints, but I have never once in my lifetime at this school been looked down upon, I have never once been yelled at like what happened.”

Johnson is not the only person to offer an opposing perspective in Asheville and the surrounding area, nor is she the only person to be criticized for expressing similar opinions. Amongst Johnson are several others, who say pro-Palestinian sentiments have overshadowed a pro-Israeli perspective in the local Asheville/Western North Carolina region. Enter one such perspective is that of Miami native Kru Joe Chao, 60, the owner of Hendo Kickboxing, a martial arts gym in Hendersonville, N.C. Chao is experienced in and teaches several martial arts, but a large focus is placed on Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art used by the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces. 

“Krav Maga, in Hebrew it means ‘contact combat.’ It was a self defense system that was created in, I want to say the 1950s by Imi Litchenfeld. He was a professional boxer and did other kinds of contact sports. He was part of the IDF in Israel. To be a citizen, you have to serve three years, which is understandable considering the tension that’s always in the Levant and the Middle East. He created simple self defense techniques that anyone can use. It morphs, changes, grows and modifies. Every two years they revamp the system because if one person can’t do it, they come up with a different technique. It is the most proven form of self defense in the world. It’s used by the IDF Mossad, which is the anti-terrorist group unit. And it’s also used by the FBI, Homeland Security and multiple police departments,” Chao said.

Outside of the Hendo Kickboxing gym are two banners, with one reading: “We Stand With Israel Against Terrorism,” and another reading “Straight From the Holy Land, Israeli Combat Weapons Training.” In a Jan. 5, 2024 email from Chao, photos were sent displaying the signs with gray spray paint lettering, reading: “no to genocide” and “free Palestine.” 

According to Chao, several Jewish members of the community came to him in fear, seeking support directly following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel. Free of charge, after requesting support, Chao taught an anonymous Jewish, Israeli woman the safety course section of their Israeli Combat Weapons training, a quarterly taught program designed to teach participants the Israeli style of shooting as a means of self defense, he says. 

“I told her you’re not in Israel, you’re not in Gaza, you’re here in the United States, pretty safe here in Hendersonville, especially. Not a big city. Big City has great things, but then you have jerks too. So the more people the more of each. So. But she did that. And we have a couple of other Jewish residents that spoke to me about their concerns, because of the rise of antisemitism in the past month,” Chao said. “What we do is we just teach the way the Israelis shoot. Israelis shoot very differently than the way the Americans like the NRA teach. They respond much quicker,” Chao said. 

According to Chao, when crises occur in the news, he finds it important to do what he can to provide a resource for his customers and the local community. In regards to the current conflict, Chao hopes to provide his services to the local Jewish community. Although Chao usually remains apolitical, choosing not to voice his personal political views, he shared a few of his thoughts on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, he says.

“I’m pro Israel, because I think everyone has the right to live. And the other group, their goal is genocide. That kind of tells you everything right there. If my goal is to kill all of you, then you’re not a nice person. If you want to come into my house, and kill everybody. I’m gonna kill you first,” Chao said. “I can understand how you can do something remotely and not be so involved. When we send out predator missiles at long distance, you don’t see them, you just see an explosion, but to go out of your way, and put children in ovens and burn them alive, and behead people. It’s just like ISIS, which is just like the Nazis. So I associate Hamas with ISIS and with the Nazis because atrocities are atrocities. The two state solution I don’t think will ever catch on. They’ve tried it five times, and five times it was rejected. I don’t know. I mean, I know Palestinian people. They’re wonderful people. I just think they picked the wrong government.”

On the UNCA quad, on the early morning of Nov. 17, 2023, pro-Palestinian banners were hung from trees outside Karpen Hall. The banners read: “End The Occupation In Palestine,” “I Ride The Nightmare Bus With Them” and “From Cop City To The Sea.” Shortly after the banners were hung, they were taken down by campus operations personnel. In a statement from Interim Chancellor Kimberly van Noort, the banner drop broke policy on the use of university space, which prohibits hanging, attaching, taping, affixing or suspending signs or banners from buildings and building exteriors without prior approval. The statement followed a Nov. 3, 2023 statement from Noort addressing the cancellation of an event titled: “Until We’re All Free: State Violence from Cop City to Palestine.” Notably, before the event occurred, it was publicly condemned by U.S. Congressman Chuck Edwards, who described the event as “antisemitic” and supported by “woke, radical leftists on the UNCA campus.”  An email was sent to Edwards requesting a further explanation of their statement, but no response was received at the time of this publication. 

“We wanted to make a safe space for anti-Zionist folks. There are a lot of folks who are trying to make it unsafe for college students to vocally oppose the genocide in Gaza. We wanted to put out a statement that anti-Zionist folks exist and we’re out there. The policy is no banners, which is some liberal ass weasley shit, if you will excuse my french. It’s not super unreasonable, because they can’t say: ‘only good banners,’ and then have to create a definition of ‘good’ banners. The speed and ferocity by which they responded to our banners was very interesting though. We were up there before the sun. They must have been waiting for something like that to happen,” said one of the people involved in hanging the banners. While willing to give an interview, they have requested to remain completely anonymous. 

According to this individual, a self-described local anarchist and left-wing activist, PSL, despite its efforts and effective actions, does not come without its criticisms. 

“Their hearts are in the right place, mostly,” they said. “I have problems with centralized, hierarchical organizations. I have problems imagining a future in which there is leadership. I think that’s ultimately destructive. I keep my shit very local, because that is where I feel like I can do the most good and have the most knowledge. When you’re talking about Israel, anti-semitism is a thing, but it’s very nuanced and complicated. There’s a dynamic where Israel weaponizes the concept of anti-semitism to silence criticism of them. They pump a bunch of money into making campaign contributions to senators.” 

According to Al Jazeera, a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas was instated on Nov. 24, 2023, and was renewed twice, extending it to last for a full seven days. Under the seven day ceasefire, humanitarian aid entered Gaza. The local anarchist said, on Feb. 11, 2024, greater attention must be directed to local, leftist efforts. 

“It hits close to home, but Haywood Street has stopped doing a free breakfast on Sundays, which has left a big gap in the weekly cycle of various soup kitchens around the actual area, accessible by bus easily. It’d be great if there could be more food support on Sundays,” they said. “Or advocacy around the panhandling policies, or more support for the community paramedics, or other very localized issues.”

Hamas released Israeli hostages taken on the Oct. 7 attack in exchange for Palestinian prisoners being released from Israeli jails, amidst the temporary, seven day ceasefire. 110 Israeli captives were released while 127 are still in Gaza. Of 350 Palestinian prisoners, 240 were released. Three of these 240 released prisoners were Salaymeh’s cousins.

“They’re all teenagers. The oldest of them was 17 or 18. Three of my cousins were released. The youngest, I think, was 14. They live in Jerusalem. Because of the complete blackout, our family in Jerusalem is afraid to speak. If you make a statement, everything is monitored. You’ll disappear at night. There are people in my family who have died. Some young men, some old men. We don’t know what’s the natural cause or not because you actually cannot post that on social media,” Salaymeh said. “They actually made it on TV, one of them, the 14-year-old, they spelled the name wrong. He was interviewed by Al Jazeera.”

According to Salaymeh, the lack of reporting on the release of Palestinian hostages was minimal alongside the available communication. So much so, Salaymeh is not able to effectively communicate with his now-released cousins. He has not spoken with them, he says. 

“Reporters in many cases are not allowed to publish without the army seeing it. So, the information we have is limited. But the 14-year-old, he spoke on TV. The only information that I have is actually the TV interview on Al Jazeera. We know they were released, we know that he was interviewed, but that’s it. This is how far removed we are because people on the inside are afraid of communicating” Salaymeh said. “The messages were very significant. When they hold these guys, a lot of them are held without charge. The concept of administrative detention. They are the only developed country in the world that has the ability to hold people without a charge. Their politicians go on TV and say that they’re terrorists. You reach a point where you can label me whatever the hell you want to label me. Go ahead, your labels are as valid as you are.” 

The only way to reach his family in Palestine is through direct contact, Salaymeh said. This comes with several concerns, however.

“I have had one phone call with a first cousin, who is a Palestinian diplomat. He was very, very quiet. He didn’t want to say anything because he knows what’s going to happen. I check on his wife, his daughters, his son and talk about the struggles of getting groceries, etc. That’s in Jerusalem. My mother talks to her sisters more often. From direct contact with family we’re getting very little information. In Gaza it’s even worse. I don’t have any family in Gaza, but I have friends who are from Gaza. One of my best friends lives in Omaha. About 30 percent of his family has been killed and he’s got multiple nieces and nephews with amputations. He’s trying to work with some senator to get them out to Egypt so that at least they can get artificial limbs or something like that. It’s carnage. It’s genocide,” Salaymeh said. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Blue Banner Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *