West Orange High School Students Walk for Palestine

West Orange High School Students Walk for Palestine

WEST ORANGE, NJ – In response to the rising concerns over the war in Gaza that started on October 7th, on November 22, West Orange High School (WOHS) students walked out of their classes at 11 a.m. for the West Orange Walks For Palestine March and Rally. The Instagram page @woteens4palestine organized the events and urged participants to remain civil and raise awareness. 


Before the Walkout 

On October 28, 2023, a student-led organization on Instagram, WO Teens For Palestine, took a stand against Mayor Susan McCartney’s statement in support of the Israeli government. In response to her statement, WO Teens For Palestine initially organized a walkout on Monday, October 30, 2023. According to organizers, the goal was to support “a ceasefire…[while] condemn[ing] terrorism.” WOHS administration met with the protest organizers to ensure the protest would be peaceful, and student safety would be prioritized. WOHS Principal Oscar Guerrero shared that he met with student organizers to bring awareness regarding phrases used on their Instagram page and raised concern in the community, as it could be constructed as hate speech. 

After hearing about the walkout, a variety of WOHS adult residents took to Facebook to express their frustrations about the demonstration and WO Teens For Palestine’s political stance. An anonymous user even went as far as to call student participants “future terrorists,” “cretins,” and “antisemites.” The adults also told some of the students “[need] to be doxxed,” “go before a judge,” “suspended,” “disciplined,” and “expelled.” 

However, other parents defended the actions of the student activists on Facebook, calling the posts “disgusting” and “hateful,” saying, “How can you sit by and excuse…coming for children in your community?” Another parent in support of the protesting students said, “I’m getting very nervous about people in this town having quick reflexes to threaten, dox, and create anger towards people without further cause…I understand that tensions are high and there are serious atrocities and terrorist acts being committed, but I think we should take a step back and figure out healthier ways to deal with our neighbors (especially kids/students)”. The screenshots from these Facebook groups were published to a post by the Teaching While Muslim Instagram account.

Due to safety concerns, the organizers of the walkout chose to postpone it, and reschedule for November 22. On November 21, WO Teens For Palestine announced the new event, which included a walkout of West Orange High School, a march to Verona Park, and a rally at the park. WO Teens For Palestine warned students that the walkout, which was not sponsored by the WOHS administration, would result in a cut from class and a detention. Teachers were instructed to heavily monitor attendance during the planned walkout periods. WOHS marchers were well aware of the consequences of walking out due to the school’s attendance policy, which strictly read, “An unexcused tardy of 10 minutes or more will be recorded as a cut” according to the WOHS student handbook (a 104-paged online PDF).


The Walkout

As the clock struck closer to the walkout, tension filled the halls of WOHS. Around the end of 5th period (10:45 a.m.), a few students began leaving class in preparation. At 11 a.m., students left the school from the Pleasant Valley Way (PVW) building to join the other marchers on the corner of Pleasant Valley Way and Stanford Ave (the corner of Kelly Elementary), at which time, people started rallying, holding up signs such as “CEASE FIRE NOW. Choose Peace. Every time.” and “Free Free Palestine.” 

As the protesting began, cars started to honk in support; the support, however, was short-lived. Within 10 minutes, cars began to respond more negatively; car horns became more aggressive, and drivers gave thumbs-down and berated the protestors with negative words and gestures. 

The marchers also faced counter-protestors who were marching in support of Israel. The Palestine marchers remained calm, and the leaders of the march reminded the group throughout the march not to engage with counter-protestors. 

West Orange Police Officers and WOHS security also monitored for student safety and protection. “I was really thankful that law enforcement was there because I feel like this would have taken a much darker turn very quickly,” said one of the organizers of the march. “[It] was honestly the reason they [the counter-protestors] were so civil towards us … I’m not afraid to say that, because if they were not there, who knows what could have happened.”

The march stepped off at 11:15 a.m. down the street of Pleasant Valley Way, arriving at Verona park around 11:45 a.m.

Standing at the opposite corner was a large group of pro-Israel supporters with signs and Israeli flags up. The marchers proceeded calmly. 

 At the park, the protestors gathered in a circle and chanted again, with different speakers from the group sharing a few words. A few minutes later, they marched to the bridge at the park where they would rally for two hours with different speakers having shared their experiences as Palestinians, insight on what it is like to love, and ultimately demand a sense of justice. “I’m holding up one more sign, I’m one more voice … some people know me [and] my opinions, so if I can get them at least to go from inaction to action, from no to some research, giving just a little bit of my own life, then I’m making an impact,” said one WOHS student.  

Finally, the marchers would return to the high school at 1:50 p.m. and march again with Palestinian music and high spirits to decompress around 2:25 p.m., celebrating each other for their hard work. 

“We wanted to really emphasize civility and humanity and the fact that we are not against anybody, we are not against Jews [or] those who disagree with us,” the organizers told The Pioneer minutes after the march, “We are just simply for the people.”


After the Walkout

Following the walkout on Wednesday, students returned home for Thanksgiving Break. As promised, attendance was strictly monitored on the 22nd. Upon returning to school the following Monday, student participants were met with their deans who were administering detentions: the school policy for “cutting” class. Students had been aware of these consequences. 

In the hours and days that followed the walkout, town tensions far from eased. Residents immediately took to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to voice their growing opinions on the walkout. 

After the walkout, @woteens4palestine posted a video of one of the speakers who spoke at the rally. Commenters shared their support for the students who attended, “I am so so proud of the younger generation for not backing down and standing up for whats right! We are behind you, and we love you!!!” @sophia.the_worst commented, and others shared hearts and Palestine flags. Outside of their Instagram page, however, the sentiment was different. 

“The “huge” anti-Jew WOHS walkout/rally turned out only about 50-60 protestors. A huge failure for them and good news for the rest of civilization. The counter-protestors numbered about 50,” an anonymous member of the West Orange 07052 Facebook page wrote at 12:38 p.m. on November 22. The post provoked a chain of angry responses as well as impassioned agreement.

In a separate post, Mike Goldberg wrote on the afternoon of the protest, “This WO Walks For Palestine garbage is the culmination of the woke mob and the communistic indoctrination of our young people in this county. I strongly urge the parents of our town to explain to their children what’s really happening here.” 

“Even if there were two people standing on this bridge today, it would still be a victory because the point is to keep conversations alive. The point is to keep motivating people to educate themselves and come to their own conclusions,” said Anya Dillard, WOHS Alumni and member of the  501(c)3 nonprofit organization The Next Gen Come Up, during the march. 

Others agreed with the anonymous user, “Good!!!! Happy about their rousing failure,” Giancarlo Cefalo commented in response. 

On November 24, West Orange Mayor Susan McCartney released a statement titled “Hate has No Home Here,” in which she addressed the town broadly.  “Our community is a mosaic of individuals blended from multiple backgrounds, various heritages, and rich cultures that add depth and spirit to our community identity. Our strength lies in the collective energy generated by the sum of its total that recognizes the beautiful complexity of its composition.”

McCartney went on to emphasize the importance of “productive dialogue” and empathy in the face of unfolding “world events.” She concluded, “As we face the challenges of spirited debate, let us learn from one another to build a future focused on peace. As we stand together, we can be an example to our neighbors and the world by exemplifying our strength characterized by every act of kindness, representing the unique essence of who we are and always have been.” 

According to Tap Into West Orange, the Mayor also commended the actions of town officers and administrators in their role of implementing safety, stating, “[I am] Grateful for the collaboration with Superintendent Moore, Principal Guerrero, Deputy Mayor Rein, along with the West Orange Police Department and Essex County Sheriff’s Department for keeping the community safe.” McCartney also offered, “[I am] so pleased to see our students and friends were able to express themselves in a peaceful, responsible manner.” 

The organizers of the walkout offered some insight into the future, mentioning that their mission to “amplify” their message wouldn’t stop with the walkout. One of the student organizers, who has requested to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told The Pioneer that they plan to organize future events, including a vigil in remembrance of Palestinians who died in Gaza. They explained that their next steps in amplification will fall heavily on “sharing resources and boosting other events in the area,” which they have already begun to do on social media. 


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