Students, alumni detained at Love Field Airport while protesting Biden’s arrival in Dallas

Photo Courtesy of Hussein Alhraishawi

UTD students and alumni were among a dozen protesters detained Monday night demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and shutting down a main entrance to Love Field Airport as President Joe Biden landed in Dallas.

According to a press release from the Palestinian Youth Movement, Dallas police detained 13 protesters during a sit-in demonstration that blocked Biden’s intended route of travel to Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s funeral. A video circulating on social media shows police detaining alumni including a former Students for Justice in Palestine President, Nidaa Lafi. While being led into a police vehicle, she and hundreds of surrounding protestors shouted, “ceasefire now” referencing the Israeli military’s siege on Gaza. Multiple protestors said they witnessed Biden’s vehicle taking an alternate route through the highway later that evening, likely because of the rally. Nour Saad, secretary for SJP, said that this is the first shutdown the Dallas pro-Palestine community organized, following a string of shutdowns in major cities across the nation.

“I do have a message for Biden,” Saad said. “[He] underestimates the resilience of the Palestinian people. It’s been 75 years and 95 days, and we don’t forgive, we don’t forget. We’ll not have business as usual until justice is served.”

A Dallas police spokesman, Michael Dennis, said that the group of protesters blocked an intersection of Mockingbird Lane and Herb Kelleher Way – a main entrance to the airport – shortly before 6:30 p.m. Authorities gave protestors three warnings to leave the area before they started making arrests. Dennis said the detainees originally faced obstruction of highway or other passageway charges; however, they were released without charge after being held overnight.

PYM said detained protestors included a former intern of the late Bernice Johnson who The Mercury was unable to contact. AHT sophomore Luka Zhou, who The Mercury interviewed last month about SJP’s Chalk the Block event was also detained. The Mercury was unable to reach Zhou for comment, but he provided statements about his motivations for his advocacy in an interview with The Mercury in December.

“I actually come from a family of activists, revolutionaries,” Zhou said “So, I really resonated with the Palestinian sentiment, the desire to not be under occupation and the desire to ignore being talked down upon.”

Photo Courtesy of Hussein Alhraishawi

Lew Sterrett Justice Center held detainees until their release on Jan. 9 at 5 a.m., one hour after intended, as documented in a live broadcast from protestor Alia Taha. Taha was one of the dozens of demonstrators from Love Field Airport who stayed overnight in the detention center as a part of a civil sit-in to show support for the detainees.

A statement from a recent SJP post referred to Biden as “Genocide Joe” and explained that PYM and SJP organized the rally for the Dallas community to unite and demand a ceasefire in Gaza while Biden was in town. The war in Gaza has killed more than 22,000 Palestinians, including more than 7,000 children, primarily from Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The United Nations Relief Agency for Palestinians and the UN World Food Program warned that half of Gazans – about 1 million people – are at risk of starvation, and 85% of the population is displaced. Israel is facing a genocide charge from South Africa in the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest legal body, for its military response.

“[Biden] is NOT welcome here while Palestinians face a genocide that is fully funded and fully supported by the United States,” the SJP post said.

According to Axios, Biden requested an additional $14.3 billion in military aid to Israel as of October 2023. In November 2023, as a part of a military spending bill including cuts to funding for Ukraine and continued funding to Taiwan, the House of Representatives approved $14.5 billion in military aid to Israel. This would be the most military aid the U.S. has ever pledged to Israel if the bill passes through all chambers. The U.S. has provided more aid to Israel than any other foreign country since World War II, sitting at above $300 billion, with Vietnam in second place with a little over $185 billion. U.S. officials said the $14.3 billion military aid package would include money for better air and missile defense systems including the Iron Dome.

UTA Progressive Student Union and National Alliance DFW called for the public to contact Lew Strerrett Justice Center to demand the release of the detainees shortly after their arrests. The lines were busy when The Mercury attempted to call the detention center at midnight. Multiple organizations offered to assist with bail funds but it wasn’t necessary since the detainees were released without charge.

Photo Courtesy of Hussein Alhraishawi

The original demonstration began at 3 p.m. on Jan. 8. with hundreds of protestors showing up to the front of the airport awaiting Biden’s arrival. Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Genocide Joe has got to go” and called for an immediate ceasefire all throughout the rally. Victor Faner, a UTD alum and advocate for Palestinian human rights, arrived at 7 p.m., after police had already escorted detainees to jail and directed rally-goers away from the main entrance of the airport. Faner described protestors as energetic when he arrived, perhaps even more impassioned with their chanting than before the arrests, but the crowd had dwindled down to 70 or so people and moved to the sidewalk since 3 p.m. Despite this, police presence continued to roll in with at least ten officers mounted on horses and 30 to 40 officers in total as seen in a photo Faner provided.

“The protestors themselves were peaceful. No one was doing any rioting of any sort,” Faner said. “We were loud, and we wanted to have our voices heard but we weren’t violent in any way. So, I did feel tension seeing the sheer number of police officers there. This small group of maybe 70 protestors was facing down a group of 40 or so officers – it was a level of intimidation, and it didn’t seem right or proportional to what was going on.”

Faner supports humanitarian aid and advocacy initiatives, including donating to bail funds for protestors and charities such as the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund – one of the largest non-governmental non-profit organizations delivering medical aid to Palestine. He started attending rallies for Palestine in October with his girlfriend who is also a UTD alum.

“It’s been civilized, but people are righteously angry about what’s going on and the reality on the ground there versus what we’re being told by the President,” Faner said. “On a personal level, it does give me hope to go to these protests and see that I’m not crazy – see that there are other people who are experiencing and feeling and seeing the same things the same way I am and are trying their best to do something about it with what little power we have. The only thing you can do with so little power on an individual level is to come together – show people, show the city, show the police, show your local officials the truth.”

Photos Courtesy of Hussein Alhraishawi

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