Six Months In, New Haven Continues to Organize for a Free Palestine

Zoe Jensen


Written April 18, 2024

New Haven’s movement to free Palestine is powered by a supportive community. One can see this clearly at Beinecke Plaza, where, since April 13th, the area has been used as a gathering space for Yale students to collectively urge their administration to divest from Israeli weapon funding. It has also become a meeting ground for individuals and coalitions across New Haven to unite and show solidarity with Palestine in an otherwise fragmented political climate.

Walking toward the Plaza, you can see tents and blankets spread across the pavement. Visitors can add what brought them to the occupation on a community bulletin board behind a welcome fold-out table offering free "Yale Corp, Divest From War" zines. Long tapestries of Palestine-inspired art wave in the wind behind the tents. People work on laptops, chat with friends, and hold organizing meetings while Marvin Gaye and similarly political, relaxing music plays in the background. A stacked book wall circles the perimeter, spanning topics from feminist theory to Palestinian history. Organizers had to arrange the books this way after the Yale administration took down their "Books, Not Bombs" bookshelves demonstration within an hour of popping up.

One of the tents was for hunger strikers specifically, which shaded fourteen people not eating to draw attention to the Palestinian crisis. Yale graduate student Ky was on their fourth day of not eating and connected this work to their Master's in environmental studies, considering "as environmentalists, we're activists." They had their vitals checked regularly with the other strikers, maintained by the broth deliveries from friends.

The occupation is big and hard to ignore, but that seems to be Yale's course of action. Although the administration has not shared internal conversations on weapons divestment, they have communicated with protesters to move materials, threaten to arrest people who stay in the Plaza overnight and stop anything that disrupts business as usual.

The same can be said for the New Haven city government. Eighty days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, New Haven alders passed a resolution in support of Ukraine. In contrast, a public hearing on whether to address the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is scheduled for May 1st, after seven months of demands from organizers to hear from their constituents. Organizers even put together their own public hearing outside of an alders meeting after they would not include a potential ceasefire resolution on their agenda. This lack of care is particularly frustrating to many of the residents of New Haven who are first or second-generation immigrants who had to flee their countries after being assailed in a similar way to how Israel is attacking Palestine.

New Haven residents have been making their voices heard across the city. In the recent Democratic Presidential Primary, 21% of New Haven Democrats voted “uncommitted” to show their dissatisfaction with President Biden’s handling of the conflict. This high turnout beat expectations city- and state-wide.

The strong Palestinian and broader Arab communities in New Haven are deeply involved in organizing around their connections to the affected country and region. The community cafe Havenly and MOTW Coffee & Pastries have been instrumental in creating spaces for people to organize around this issue. As Muslim-lead spaces, they are, or work with, people directly affected by the genocide. They have been holding speakers, fundraisers, and collaborations with local groups like the Connecticut chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, We Will Return, and Pals for Palestine. Groups of Jewish Voice for Peace New Haven has been a strong force of allied people for Palestine, and are hosting an early May discussion on Joy As Resistance at the Palestine Museum, which is right outside of New Haven in Woodbridge.

The pro-Palestine movement is bringing other disparities in New Haven to light, including the hunger crisis. "Organizing has been intersectional," said Linda, a Program Coordinator at a local food bank and community space. "Occupy Beinecke is partnering with the New Haven Witness to Hunger chapter, trying to move weapon investments to help residents of New Haven get the food they need. In my line of work, we don't have enough money to provide food to all the people that come through our doors." Many also connect this issue to public school funding. "I think there's a misconception that fighting for Palestine doesn't matter because it's a quote-unquote foreign affairs issue," said Harmony Cruz-Bustamante, a Wilbur Cross High School senior, Student Defense Collective organizer and New Haven for Ceasefire Coalition member. "The investment in war, suffering, trauma, and oppression that Yale University and the city of New Haven is funding, even if it's in rhetoric, is directly connected to the destiny and lives of the oppressed here at home. Funding the Israeli effort means fewer social services. It means more people are shooting each other. It means a lack of funding for our schools."

It also has impacted how New Haven residents relate to Yale students. "I think locals of New Haven and local students should collaborate and get to know each other more, regardless of age or institution," said Tyf, who swung by the Hunger Strike tent to drop off four quarts of broth for a striker. "Despite Yale students' ties to their institutions, their activism and work are valid. They are there to support us, and I think we should be there to support them more often. A lot of organizing energy in New Haven is cliquey. When interpersonal conflicts come down, we get a lot more done."

Even though we are geographically far away from Palestine and often feel helpless in the struggle, our state’s direct actions have made it so each and every taxpayer is already involved in funding the conflict, whether we want to be or not. Organizing around this movement has helped many explore ways to wield our voting and tax contributions to make a difference abroad and at home. This movement is for Palestine, and in the process, we might help make New Haven better, too.