Israel-Palestine conflict

In protesting for Palestine, Eliana Atienza takes inspiration from family

Michelle Abad

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In protesting for Palestine, Eliana Atienza takes inspiration from family

SPEAKING OUT. Eliana Atienza at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of Pennsylvania.

Eliana Atienza

Eliana, daughter of TV host Kim Atienza, who studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says she learned from her family to speak out for what’s right

MANILA, Philippines – “Guys, there are a lot of riot police here.”

On the 17th day of their pro-Palestine encampment, May 10, University of Pennsylvania (Penn) students alerted each other that riot police may be coming to dismantle it. One of those who got an alert was Filipina sophomore Eliana Atienza.

Eliana, who was not sleeping at the encampment but helped organize it, biked over to the area at around 5:30 am. Dozens of police officers clad in helmets, shields, and batons moved in on foot and bike, and gave the students a two-minute warning to leave or face possible arrest.

It was a “heartbreaking” day, as dozens of students were arrested, including some of Eliana’s friends. As Israel continues its assault on Gaza, the advocacy continues for Eliana, inspired by what her family taught her as she grew up in the Philippines.

“Growing up, my mom, my dad, my lolo, my lola (grandfather and grandmother), taught me to speak out for what’s right, be kind to one another, and have integrity. And I hope I make them proud by being in the streets and marching and chanting and calling for a free Palestine, because the death and destruction in Gaza is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Eliana said in an At Home sa Abroad: Stories of Overseas Filipinos episode on Rappler aired Monday, May 27.

In protesting for Palestine, Eliana Atienza takes inspiration from family
Political awakening

Eliana, 19, grew up watching the likes of her father, television personality Kim Atienza, and listening to stories about her relatives who marched in the EDSA People Power Revolution, which saw the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986.

“My dad was a journalist [and] photographer. A lot of my relatives marched in EDSA. My mom has always told me, be kind, be kind, and be kind. My titos and titas (uncles and aunts) tell me, you have to treat others the way you want to be treated. And when I look at Gaza, over 15,000 of the deaths are children. And I think, what if that had been my family?” she said.

In 2021, Eliana was accepted into Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences. While she had already grown up socially conscious, she said it was a turning point to learn about the conflict in Palestine while she was in college. “It’s shaken up activism here at Penn,” she said.

She joined earlier protests for Palestine following the October 2023 attack from Palestinian group Hamas that prompted Israel to retaliate in hostile aggression, which led to the deaths of over 30,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health authorities.

After her photos were posted online, Eliana saw hateful X posts about her over her participation in the demonstrations.

“People were calling me the most hateful things imaginable, racist, sexist things, like making fun of [how] I was Filipino. But I was like, I’m not ashamed of that. I’m very, very proud of that, actually. In my head, we’re fighting for justice, and people who are against that are not people whose opinion that I want and that I value,” she said.

Eliana believes that the reason why people are full of anger and hate is because “what we’re doing is working, and it has power.”


In the weeks leading up to May 10, Eliana helped organize the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Penn. This is only one of the numerous college encampments across the United States, which has flip-flopped on staying loyal to its alliance with Israel while pressing the country to protect civilians.

In encampment demonstrations, students set up tents and express messages of solidarity and demands through programs and signs. The students had three demands to Penn: disclose its investments, divest from institutions profiting off of the war in Gaza, and defend pro-Palestinian speech. Palestinian and Jewish students also joined the demonstration.

ENCAMPMENT. Students participate in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of Pennsylvania on April 26, 2024. Photo courtesy of Joe Piette via Eliana Atienza

On the second day of the encampment, April 26, Penn told the students that they were “in violation of Penn’s policies.” In a May 10 statement, top Penn executives called their demands “unreasonable.”

News coverage of these encampments usually highlight the arrests of students who refuse to heed to police, but Eliana talked about how the encampment was also a community affair with learning, food, and art.

COMMUNITY. Food is given out for free in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Courtesy of Eliana Atienza

“I think an encampment is powerful because it makes a space that is just like a classroom… We had poets, we had singers and dancers, we had people playing their instruments, we had people reading their writing. And that, to have made a space like that is different than a march because it allows for a lot more learning,” she said.

In the day-to-day, everyone was invited to come and eat. Eliana said it was the most Palestinian food she had had in her entire life. Students balanced their academics with protesting, running to take exams and coming back to the encampment.

HANGING OUT. Eliana Atienza with friends at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Courtesy of Eliana Atienza

It all ended on May 10 when the police came and swept the encampment away, arresting over 30 who refused to leave.

“It felt like a scene out of a war movie. By 5:30 am, they had set up in front of our encampment – the same encampment where we sang a lot of songs, we did a lot of art, where we did a lot of poetry, ate a lot of food. They said, you have to leave now, leave in two minutes, or else get arrested,” she said.

Apart from dispersing the students, law enforcement shredded the tents and signs. 

“Our community has been under threat and our campus disrupted for too long,” the Penn executives said. “Passion for a cause cannot supersede the safety and operations of our University. Early this morning, we took action, with support from local law enforcement, to remove the encampment… This is an unfortunate but necessary step to prevent violence, restore operations, and return our campus to our community.”

Locked out

As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Eliana was one of the six students put on mandatory leave amid the demonstrations. Eliana recalls receiving a warning email and immediately trying to use her campus key card in the nearest building, but it denied her access. This key card also grants access to her dorm. 

“When they deactivated it, I couldn’t enter my home anymore. So they essentially kicked me out of my home,” she said.

In a disciplinary hearing on Monday, May 20, the university decided to put her on “disciplinary probation” until May 2025.

Eliana said she believes Penn would have been harder on her if she and her fellow students who faced sanctions were not supported by community members. “People took to the streets just to make sure that we weren’t expelled from the school. And I’m confident that that support is what led to my probation and not my expulsion, not me being kicked out of the school.”

Eliana said her parents were worried for her, especially since they were an ocean away. Still, in an interview with GMA News Online, Eliana’s father, Kim Atienza, expressed support for his daughter.

“My daughter has been very vocal about what she believes in and she’s part of an anti-genocide and anti-war organization… My family has been very supportive of her, since we know she is fighting for human rights. She’s strong,” GMA News Online quoted “Kuya Kim” as saying in a mix of English and Filipino.

In solidarity

Looking back at the challenges she faced as a student activist, Eliana said she learned much about solidarity. She learned about the significance of the civil rights movement in America, and listened to stories of Filipino-Americans she met along the way.

Eliana believes that being a Filipino means keeping one’s family safe, and with that in mind, relates it to the experience of Palestinian families who are affected by Gaza, as Israel faces a charge of genocide at the World Court. “What if it had been us?” she asked.

She also related her newfound lessons on solidarity with Filipinos standing up to China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, saying that she saw “a lot of parallels” with Palestine’s occupation.

“Every single part of my being hopes that [the war in Gaza] ends very soon so that people stop the slaughter of Palestine…. I think the future is changing very, very fast. But if being Filipino has taught me anything, it’s that we are resilient, we will bounce back and we will do it smiling and laughing,” she said.

“We will still be here. We will still be advocating for a free Palestine. Even though we’re tired, we’ll get back up and keep doing it.” –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.