“When is anyone going to help us?” lamented a Gazan boy during the first month of Israeli bombardment.

A video of that heartbreaking plea is one of the countless that have emerged from Gaza over the past six months. The boy’s prayers must have sprouted wings, flown over the seas, and landed in the hearts of American college students. Their unwavering support has given a voice to the long-suffering Palestinians.

At Columbia University in New York, students began an encampment on April 17, pitching tents on their campus lawns. Since then, red pins denoting university campuses gripped by Palestine solidarity rallies have crowded the map of the United States. So far, nine hundred students across the country have been arrested. The toll of those suspended and evicted from university housing rises by the hour. Yet, the harsher the crackdown, the higher the turnout at the rallies.

Disturbing video footage of police officers grappling unarmed students and faculty members to the ground has flooded social media. The Texas Governor called in state troopers to control a protest at the University of Austin. Mounted on horses, riot-gear-clad troopers towered over placard-holding students. The scene was reminiscent of the biblical David facing the giant Goliath with a slingshot.

History has shown us repeatedly that the young have always been right. The last time massive campus demonstrations shook the United States was back in the late 1960s when students protested the Vietnam War. Ironically, it was Columbia University that spearheaded the movement even then.

An accidental discovery linking Columbia to the Institute of Defence Analyses, a weapons research think tank, led students to demand that the university withdraw its institutional membership to the organization.

Fast forward to 2024, American students’ demands are uniform: the foremost among that their universities withdraw their investments from companies complicit in the war on Gaza. They also want their universities to end their affiliations with universities in Israel and to end the repression of pro-Palestinian voices on campus.

The students are displaying laudable courage and idealism. Some of those suspended were weeks away from their graduation ceremonies. Between October and April, Israel has destroyed all Gaza’s universities, and schools and killed scores of academics. The injustice is not lost on the US students.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who remained unfazed by several United Nations resolutions urging restraint and the International Court of Justice instructing Israel to take “immediate and effective measures” to protect Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip from the risk of genocide by ensuring sufficient humanitarian assistance and enabling basic services, is unnerved by the student protests.

Not surprisingly, he labeled them “anti-Semitic” and likened them to the demonstrations on campuses in Germany in the 1930s. Many of the protesting students in the US are Jewish themselves. They denounce the genocide and Israeli occupation as acts that defile their faith.

There is a glaring generational divide in the way Americans view Israel. For decades, unstinting support for Israel has been Washington’s default position. But Americans under the age of 30 know that the world outside academia will not be that rosy for them.

Graduates of top universities grapple with crippling student loans and rising housing costs. Prospective employers may not offer health insurance. They resent the funneling of billions of tax dollars towards funding Israel’s war machine and are not afraid to raise their voices.

Palestine has always been a cause larger than an Arab or Muslim one. The events of the last six months have exposed the curtailment of freedom of speech in countries that pride themselves on being democracies. They have also exposed the hypocrisy of politicians and the greed of large corporations.

Young people around the world are expressing their disgust with the status quo. Over the past few days, encampments protesting the annihilation of Gaza have sprung up on Canadian college campuses. At Sciences Po in Paris, students took over an entire university building. Students in Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, and Algeria have launched their movements for Gaza.

With American universities at the tail end of their academic year, the student protestors might just be forced to pack up their tents and go home. But they have made themselves heard. The White House knows that it’s aiding an unpopular war and the keys to end it have always been in its hands.

For all those who courted arrest and put their future at stake to demand an end to hostilities in Gaza, their sacrifice will be well worth it. They have certainly earned the goodwill of the Gazans. Images of tent-dwellers in Rafah, spray painting messages of thanks to the students have flooded the internet.

American historian Howard Zinn, who is popular with students, explained why protests upset the establishment so much. “They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there’s no peace,” he once wrote. “What really bothers them is that we’re disturbing the war.”

Zeenath Khan is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist based in Hyderabad.