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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Tufts students, local community rally at ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’

Capping a week of turmoil on college campuses across the country, Tufts protesters refocus on Palestinian solidarity.

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A long procession of protesters wove its way around upper campus on April 26.

In the largest protest Tufts has seen this semester, over 300 students, faculty, nearby residents and Somerville High School students rallied on Friday in solidarity with Gaza. The demonstration, stretching from the Academic Quad to the front steps of the Mayer Campus Center, follows a wave of heightened student activism across the country.

“I just am so proud and inspired by young people standing up for what’s right, in light of news at similar events where there are police violently responding to the protests,” a Somerville resident, Dustin Bradley, said at the rally.

With Israel’s war in Gaza recently hitting the 200-day mark, the Palestinian death toll has surpassed 34,000. Student activists at Tufts and on college campuses around the country — including Emerson College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Harvard University — have set up “Gaza Solidarity Encampments” in recent weeks to demand their institutions divest from Israel. Although police presence was minimal at Tufts’ demonstration, local police have faced off with protesters at other colleges; on Wednesday, 118 students were arrested at Emerson.

Shortly before noon, protesters at Tufts began gathering around the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the Academic Quad, where tents were first raised on April 7. At the front of the encampment stood painted murals, forming an “Apartheid Wall” which organizers pledged to leave up until administrators agreed to a meeting. According to Tufts’ executive director of media relations, Patrick Collins, the university has ordered demonstrators to deconstruct the installation because it “blocks access to paths.”

“This is the genocide our university is complicit [in],” the first student speaker said, highlighting the recent discovery of a mass grave containing nearly 400 bodies at Gaza’s Nasser Hospital. “Shame on Tufts University. … [It] remains silent as every single university in Gaza has been destroyed overnight and over 90 professors have been murdered.”

The student also emphasized protesters’ continued calls for Tufts to divest from Israel and condemn Israel’s war in Gaza as genocide. The university previously denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement after the Tufts Community Union Senate passed three student-led resolutions calling for Tufts to divest from Israeli companies, among other demands.

“Our fight for divestment remains laser-focused,” the student said.

Protesters were soon joined by students from Somerville High School, who walked out of classes and marched onto the university’s campus. Together, the group marched down President’s Lawn and gathered at the Campus Center. Students marked the ground, stairs and walls around the Campus Center with chalk, writing slogans including “End the Occupation” and “Let Gaza Live.”

Tufts faculty in attendance held signs that read “Protect Our Students.” The group Tufts Faculty and Staff for Ceasefire published a letter on Thursday expressing support for student protesters and urging the university to avoid the use of police force. 

“I believe in freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech, and it’s disturbing watching what’s happening at other university campuses,” an attending Tufts professor, Lilian Mengesha, said. “Students are being violently attacked for expressing their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and I believe in protecting that, fundamentally.”

After stopping at the Campus Center, the group walked up the stairs next to Tisch Library back toward the Academic Quad, proceeding to march around the perimeter for around half an hour. While circling the quad, protesters led chants of “Free, free Palestine,” “From the river to the sea” and “Hey, Tufts, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide.” 

Students used chalk to write slogans on buildings including Barnum Hall, West Hall and Packard Hall, having already affixed photos of Tufts’ trustees to Ballou Hall.

“While students are permitted to express their views, including demonstrating on campus, we will review the event and hold accountable anyone affiliated with Tufts who is found to have engaged in conduct that violates university policies, including its policies on chalking, posting, and obstructing access,” Collins wrote in a statement to the Daily. 

Some bystanders took issue with certain chants long used by protesters on Tufts’ campus.

“I think the vast majority of these people have really solid messages, and they’re getting really held down by a dangerous few who are saying things that are really inflammatory and can cause significant problems,” a student on the periphery — who self-identified as Jewish and as holding liberal views — said. “Things like ‘there is only one solution’ or ‘glory to the martyrs’ … have no rationalization in a peace-based process.”

Protesters again gathered around 1:15 p.m. in the center of the Academic Quad for an educational teach-in led by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine. A representative from the indigenous students’ organization at tufts gave a speech addressing the parallels between the oppression of Native Americans in the United States and Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“The U.S. and Israel are defined by their settler-colonial ideology, which justifies their occupation, racial hierarchy and exploitative land relations,” the student said. “Just as imperialist definitions of civilization and manifest destiny have been used to justify the continued genocide, dislocation and entrapment of Native Americans, Zionism is constructed from the same formula.”

The student also emphasized the importance of solidarity in movements of political resistance.

“The ideas of individualism and liberalism will not liberate our people. Our solidarity with each other and other colonized people is what directly challenges these settler ideals,” the student said. “International solidarity means that our struggle is their struggle, and their win is our win. In the many forms it takes, resistance to a genocidal occupier will always be justified.”

Throughout the remainder of the teach-in, students read aloud testimonies from people currently living in Gaza. The crowd remained full of Tufts students and faculty, Somerville High School students and local residents.

One of these locals was Susan Barney, an Arlington resident who spent time in Palestine in 2002 and 2003, who said she has been involved in the movement for Palestinian liberation for over 20 years. She found it inspiring to see students both across the country and locally remain steadfast in their messages through “beautiful organizing.” 

“I really want to be out here to show our solidarity as community members for the incredible work that the students are doing, calling for divestment, boycott and sanctions, along with, of course, a permanent and immediate ceasefire, and ending this over 76 years of ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian people,” Barney said.

Photos by Estelle Anderson and Matthew Sage / The Tufts Daily.