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Op-ed: Attacks on the Palestine solidarity encampment draw parallels to genocide in Gaza

By Dylan Kupsh

May 9, 2024 11:32 p.m.

For the past six months, Palestinians have faced a brutal ongoing genocide in Gaza.

From the latest United Nations reports, over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 14,500 children. Over 77,000 Palestinians have been injured, thousands more buried beneath the rubble and about 1.7 million – 75% of the population – forcibly displaced. Every university in Gaza has been bombed by the Israel Defense Forces, with many Palestinian academics assassinated for their nationality or speech. Over 625,000 Palestinians were deprived of their right to education.

Through our investment portfolios and monetary contracts, UCLA is complicit. Our university invests millions into BlackRock, military contractors and other unethical corporations, ultimately profiting from the oppression of Palestinians. After both the Undergraduate Students Association Council and Graduate Student Association demanded divestment, UCLA called divestment, or the selling of financial assets, a violation of academic freedom.

The Palestine solidarity encampment sought to unite our communities, capitalizing on nationwide momentum toward divestment. For exactly one week and an hour, our community defended the Palestine solidarity encampment. After every Zionist, administrative or police attack, our community grew stronger, pushing toward divestment.

Despite the encampment’s unimaginable support, courage and publicity, I was most surprised by how our communities’ personal – and traumatic – experiences within the encampment related to those within Palestine.

Each night, we slept to musical torture, with Zionists blaring – through their extremely expensive and loud speakers – children’s songs, crying baby noises, national anthems and more. It drew parallels to Zionist settlers blasting music at Palestinian villages, disrupting sleep, education and daily activities.

Every day, we witnessed Zionist rallies filled with racialized and sexualized slurs directed at vulnerable members of the encampment. It drew parallels to the Zionist gatherings surrounding Gaza, with Israeli spectators erupting in cheers as bombs struck Gazan neighborhoods in 2014.

Every waking moment, we faced the Zionist infiltrators, seeking to provoke reaction to their heinous comments or actions. I watched several Zionists make false police reports, insidiously claiming harassment for having someone stand near them or being forced to walk an extra five minutes, mainly because of UCLA decision-making. It drew parallels to the militantly armed Zionist settlers, who frequently entered Palestinian homes and villages to provoke both Zionist military and media backlash.

Some Zionists would block encampment entrances, yelling slurs at students waiting to enter. It drew parallels to the Zionist blockades on humanitarian aid entering Gaza, blocking countless shipments at the border crossings.

Our encampment was constantly noise-bombarded by low-flying media and police helicopters, with bright flashlights focused on tents as people were trying to sleep. Zionists hired banner planes to fly over the encampment for hours on end. It drew parallels to the Israeli military’s sonic boom flights in Gaza, shaking buildings and blowing off doors, causing collective panic and hysteria.

Zionists deployed biological weapons onto the encampment, dumping mice with injection marks on one night and cockroaches on others. It drew parallels to Israel’s biological warfare, deploying typhoid bacteria and poisoning wells against Palestinians during the Nakba.

Several nights, Zionists threw chemical stink weapons – fart bombs or other stink sprays – into the encampment, along with our allies at Columbia University. It drew parallels to the Israeli military’s skunk spray, developing new stink smells that are deployed against Palestinians.

During the Zionist mob attack on April 30, we faced pepper spray, bear mace, tear gas, explosive fireworks, wooden bats, planks and more. According to unofficial accounts from medics on the scene, the encampment had over 100 pro-Palestine protesters pepper sprayed – some multiple times – 25 individuals hospitalized and countless others injured. The entire attack drew parallels to Zionist settler raids in the West Bank, illuminated by cars being set ablaze and Palestinians being gunned down under the watchful eye of the Zionist occupation forces.

We watched Zionists gleefully cheer arriving police forces, with law enforcement subsequently focusing their brutality toward us, exempting all Zionists from punishment and arrest. It drew parallels to Israel’s ability to commit a genocide and 76 years of occupation with impunity. When murdering or brutalizing Palestinians, Israeli soldiers and settlers regularly experience no punishment or consequences.

During the police encampment raid, we were brutalized by rubber bullets, constant flash-bangs, concussive shots and more. I watched a brown-vested police officer aim their gun directly at me, only to last-second switch to a fellow encampment member – 30 feet from the front barricade – and watch them instantly collapse from the rubber bullet. Someone came to me with their phone completely shattered and bent inward, with extreme bruising from the force of the rubber bullets. The entire police raid drew parallels to the brutal force deployed by state actors, namely Zionist occupation and police forces.

Throughout the entire encampment, UCLA watched as we were violently assaulted, harassed, discriminated against and frankly, tortured. I personally handed the stink bomb packaging to UCLA administrators and pleaded with them to take action on the violent harassment. Yet only encampment members were arrested or facing potential student conduct charges. UCLA administrators made deliberate decisions to acquiesce to the violent Zionist mob’s demands, telling the entire UCLA community in the process that violence works.

Our traumatic and violent encampment experiences represent mere fractions of the violence faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. Our homes weren’t demolished, we weren’t sprayed with white phosphorus, we weren’t shot with live ammunition, our neighborhoods and communities were not destroyed and much more. Indeed, these are only small glimpses into the horror that Palestine has experienced for the past 76 years.

Instead of silencing us, UCLA’s violent police sweep of the Palestine solidarity encampment recommitted our communities toward divestment and our demands. Indeed, the administration’s sweep marks only an escalation in our movement.

Dylan Kupsh is a third-year computer science doctoral student.

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