Protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip carry a Palestinian flag as they march through Brunswick on Saturday. John Terhune/Staff Writer

“Gaza, Gaza don’t you cry, Palestine will never die.”

The procession never stopped chanting as it left Bowdoin College’s campus, wound its way through downtown Brunswick and marched back up Maine Street. Many of the crowd of 150 carried handmade signs demanding peace. Others waved Palestinian flags as they turned onto quiet Potter Street and arrived at their destination: the home of Sen. Angus King.

On Saturday afternoon, the Bowdoin chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a peaceful rally in support of an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, where more than 17,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the past two months. Organizers said their goal was to pressure King and Sen. Susan Collins to oppose Israel’s ongoing military action, as well as U.S. military aid to Israel.

“Every minute, every hour, every day that passes in which a cease-fire is not called is another Palestinian, is another innocent person being killed, and that is something that is completely unacceptable,” said organizer Eisa Rafat, a junior from Austin, Texas. “Labeling it as a genocide and calling it what it is is extremely important.”

College campuses across the nation have become political battlegrounds since Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack on Oct. 7. Some pro-Palestine student groups have drawn fierce criticism for appearing to lay some or all of the blame for the attacks on oppressive Israeli policies in occupied Palestinian territories, which Amnesty International has deemed a system of apartheid.

Meanwhile, Jewish students have reported a troubling rise in antisemitic sentiment on college campuses since Israel launched its counterattack, which has flattened large portions of Gaza and killed thousands of civilians as well as Hamas soldiers. Several university presidents have come under fire for hesitating to take strong stands on the war abroad and the resulting turmoil at home.


When asked about Oct. 7, Rafat said his organization opposed the murder of all innocent civilians.

Some elements of Saturday’s rally hinted at the controversy that has permeated other campuses. Many students elected to wear masks to shield their identities. They pointed to high-profile doxxing incidents that have taken place at Harvard and Columbia Universities, where pro-Israel activists plastered the names of pro-Palestinian students on trucks for the public to see. The event began when the crowd gathered outside Bowdoin’s art museum to sing, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a lyric that some have interpreted as a call for the extermination of Jews, but others say is merely a cry for Palestinian independence.

But while several student speakers passionately argued for an end to the violence in Gaza, they largely steered clear of the more aggressive rhetoric that has contributed to division at other schools – a tactic organizers said they’ve adopted intentionally to avoid distracting from their peaceful message. Both Bowdoin’s administration and its student body, they say, have largely been receptive to SJP’s recent events, and the college has maintained a welcoming and safe atmosphere for both Jewish students and pro-Palestine advocates.

Protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip march through Brunswick on Saturday. John Terhune/Staff Writer)

Junior Marc Rosenthal, who is Jewish and a member of Bowdoin’s Hillel group, said it was important for him to show other students that critiquing Israel is not the same thing as antisemitism.

“I am ashamed that these crimes are being committed in my people’s name,” he told the gathered students Saturday. “I’m angry that Jewish values are being twisted to perpetuate atrocities. Bombing entire city blocks to the ground, destroying families’ homes and livelihoods is the opposite of tikkun olam – repairing the world.”

Bowdoin SJP’s open letter to King and Collins has garnered more than 1,500 signatures in less than a week, including hundreds of students from more than 15 Maine colleges.


After several student speeches, the crowed marched through Brunswick carrying handwritten banners displaying the names of the more than 6,000 Palestinians killed in the first 20 days of the war. The list of victims, supplied by the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health, does not differentiate between soldiers and civilian deaths, but it is largely accurate, according to Associated Press reports.

The event concluded with organizers delivering the list and SJP’s open letter to King’s door.

Support for a cease-fire may be strong among college students and nearly every member of the U.N. Security Council, but it remains a difficult sell in Washington. With few exceptions, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have staunchly supported Israel’s right to retaliate to the Oct. 7 attack.

A spokesperson for Collins said Saturday that the senator supports bringing humanitarian assistance, including food, water and medicine, to civilians in Gaza, but said that a cease-fire “would be a strategic victory for Hamas.”

“It would simply allow Hamas to bide its time and prepare for future attacks, and pay no price for the greatest loss of Jewish lives in a single day since the Holocaust,” she said in a statement. “It was Hamas which violated the ceasefire by its attacks on October 7, and it was Hamas that violated the recent humanitarian pause.”

King, too, believes Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, “a barbaric terrorist organization whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” according to a spokesperson.

But the spokesperson also said King has been “horrified” by civilian death tolls and has pressed Israeli officials to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza and to minimize civilian death tolls.

King invited the Bowdoin students, as well as any other concerned Mainers, to set up a meeting with his office to discuss the topic.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.