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Students begin encampment on Penn’s campus in support of Palestinian people | The Triangle
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Students begin encampment on Penn’s campus in support of Palestinian people

Photo by Kasey Shamis | The Triangle

More than 300 student protestors from universities around the city of Philadelphia assembled today to call for their schools to “disclose, divest, and defend the students.” 

Protestors gathered at 2:00 p.m. at City Hall and marched west down Market Street. They were  joined by about 150 Drexel University students at the dragon statue, and then continued to Penn’s campus at Blanche P. Levy Park.

Organizers gave speeches and started various chants, including “Free, free Palestine!” and “Drexel is painted red, over 30,000 dead.” 

At 4:30 p.m., after two and a half hours of protest, a smaller group of students broke off and created a human chain to form and protect an encampment. As of Thursday, April 25 at 8:00 p.m., nineteen tents are set up on Penn’s campus and dozens of students from a variety of universities are expected to stay overnight, according to student organizer Emma Herndon. 

Speeches at the time encouraged supportive students to “call your friends, call your family, bring your laptop, do your homework, and stay here to support this encampment.” 

The encampment is expected to continue throughout the weekend and will include a line up of vigils and speakers.

The protest and subsequent encampment was organized by “a coalition of University of Pennsylvania students, staff, and faculty along with other Philadelphia community members and students,” according to a press release sent to the Triangle. 

They plan to camp on the UPenn green until the university complies with their demands to disclose financial holdings, divest financially and scholastically from corporations that profit from Israel’s war on Gaza and defend Palestinian students and activists, beginning with reinstating Penn Students Against the Occupation, a student group that was suspended five days ago.

Photo by Kasey Shamis | The Triangle

The organizers and participants come from various universities and organizations across Philadelphia. Several of the speakers represented the organization Professors of UPenn Faculty for Justice in Palestine. MJ, a Palestinian high school student from the Science Leadership Academy, attended the rally because he thought it was “the morally correct thing to do.” 

Temple University student Kate Witiak, who formed one link in the human chain surrounding the encampment, said that “it’s really great to see all of the organizing across campuses in Philly” and that she “hopes that the university divestment demands come to fruition.”

This encampment comes in the wake of several similar encampments at universities across the country. Over the past week, hundreds of students have been arrested at colleges including the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University, according to CNN

Officers from the Drexel, UPenn and Philadelphia police forces were present throughout the demonstration. The march was followed by at least 15 police officers on bikes and at least 10 additional police cars. According to Drexel Police Commissioner Mel Singleton, police were there to “encourage everyone to express themselves, keep everyone safe, and to protect everyone and everything.”

There were around 15 counter protesters throughout the march and rally. Many of the counter protesters held Israeli flags. Members of the rally held up Palestinian flags and a large sign reading “Jewish boomers against occupation in Palestine” to block the counter protesters from view. 

One pro-Israeli activist stated that she was in attendance to “support Jewish students on campus so they won’t feel alone.” 

Around six o’clock, pro-Israeli activists tore a keffiyeh, a traditional scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian liberation, off of the Ben Franklin statue in the center of Penn’s campus. Afterwards, they left the event followed by jeers from the crowd and a police escort.

An officer on the scene stated that the students would likely be allowed to remain so long as they were peacefully exercising their right to protest, but police presence remains heavy. As of 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, 16 police cars line the intersection of 34th and Walnut streets.The encampment currently has food, water and first aid supplies. They are also calling for donations in a collaborative post between the Philly Palestine Coalition, Penn Against the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace Philadelphia and the Drexel Palestine coalition. There has been continual programming including singing, chanting, prayers in both Arabic and Hebrew and readings of names of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the conflict.