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Bruins in Paris

Pro-Palestine encampment features teach-ins, speeches as counter-protesters engage

A participant in the encampment points to the left as they stand amid other protesters. Those in the encampment, which began Thursday morning, participated in events such as a Passover Seder. (Ella Coffey/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Winward

April 25, 2024 9:28 p.m.

This post was updated April 25 at 1:06 a.m.

Organizers led chants and speeches in Dickson Plaza on Thursday afternoon as the protest encampment continued and counter-protests formed.

Members of the UC Divest Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA first raised tents outside Royce Hall early Thursday morning, inspired by similar protests at college campuses nationwide. As the number of protesters increased to around 400, more tents were set up with wooden barricades drilled together around the encampment.

[Related: UCLA community organizes encampment in response to national call for escalation]

Protesters used trumpets, drums and sound systems to amplify their chanting.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
Protesters sit in Dickson Plaza among their tents. Organizers said participants will not leave until the UC has agreed to their demands for divestment. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

As part of their afternoon programming, members of UC Divest gave speeches demanding the University divest from companies associated with the Israeli military. Protesters chanted phrases including, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “Free the people, free the land, justice is our demand,” and “UC, UC, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

Benjamin Kersten, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA and an art history doctoral candidate, said the event’s programming aimed to educate people about what has happened in the Gaza Strip, with protesters advertising teach-ins inside the encampment.

“This is a public university that preaches the importance of education, and yet, topics like Palestine are not taught,” he said. “A lot of the programming shows that people here are taking their education into their hands and learning what it means to teach each other and enact activist values.”

A number of faculty members supporting the protesters came to Dickson Plaza, including Chris Zepeda-Míllan, the chair of the Department of Labor Studies, who emailed labor studies students and staff to express support for the protest.

Marie Salem, a graduate student in the Fielding School of Public Health, said she decided to attend the protest to be with other people who want the UC to divest from companies associated with Israel. Attending protests is important for university students because of the ways that their learning can be academically applied to the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, Salem said.

Salem also said event organizers were planning artistic activities and interfaith community sharing circles to embrace the diversity of their movement. Kersten said JVP will host a Passover Seder, and they added that the organization is considering planning a Shabbat dinner within the encampment.

“One thing that sometimes gets said is, ‘Palestine is about a religious conflict.’ That’s not true. That just flies in the face of history,” he said.

Salem added that even though American university protests have received significant news coverage, the focus should remain on the Gaza Strip.

Media at the event were prevented from going inside the encampment by individuals claiming to act in the interest of student safety. Kersten said the decision to ban media from entering was taken because of mistrust of news media and because students at other universities have faced repercussions for participating in recent protests.

UCLA Media Relations refused to respond to requests for comment about UCLA’s plans to police or manage the protest, pointing instead to a brief statement made earlier by Mary Osako, the vice chancellor of strategic communications.

Around 15 counter-protesters supporting Israel also attended the event, waving Israeli flags and shouting “Free the hostages” through a megaphone.

The counter-protesters also shouted phrases accusing Hamas – a militant organization and Palestinian political party – of oppressing women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Around noon, Hillel at UCLA posted on Instagram, offering free “Bruins for Israel” T-shirts and encouraging students to avoid walking past the quad near Royce Hall if they didn’t want to do so.

(Anna Dai-Liu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Pro-Palestine protesters and pro-Israel counter-protesters clash at the entrance to the encampment. One sign reads “Israel is not an apartheid” as a Palestinian flag waves in the background. (Anna Dai-Liu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Eli Tsives, a first-year theater student, said he attended the event wearing an Israeli flag to show that students supporting Israel are not afraid. He added that he believed some chants at the event, including calls for an “intifada,” were antisemitic.

When asked about the counter-protesters, Kersten said the encampment was focused on the UC’s divestment from Israel rather than engaging with people who have differing viewpoints. Salem added that participants in the encampment were instructed not to engage with people who disagreed with them.

“Do not engage with counter-protesters,” she said. “We worry about ourselves, our own community, our goals. We know what we want, and we don’t engage.”

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Dylan Winward | News editor
Winward is the 2024-2025 News editor and an Arts, Copy, Photo, PRIME and Sports contributor. He was previously the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. Winward is a third-year English and statistics student from London in the United Kingdom.
Winward is the 2024-2025 News editor and an Arts, Copy, Photo, PRIME and Sports contributor. He was previously the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. Winward is a third-year English and statistics student from London in the United Kingdom.
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