'Free Palestine' encampment set up on UC Berkeley campus in solidarity with students arrested

ByLena Howland, Leslie Brinkley KGO logo
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
UC Berkeley students set up 'Free Palestine' encampment on campus
UC Berkeley students have set up a "Free Palestine" encampment in solidarity with pro-Palestinian protesters arrested at other universities.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- As finals are only two weeks away, some UC Berkeley students are trading in the library for tents.

With their laptops in hand, more than a dozen students are camping in tents outside of Sproul Hall in solidarity with students at other universities across the U.S.

"We're standing here today because we're inspired by the students at Columbia who we consider to be the heart of the student movement," said Berkeley law student Malak Afaneh.

Earlier this month, Afaneh was asked to leave a dinner party at the home of the dean of UC Berkeley's law school when she made a speech protesting the war in Gaza. Video of the dinner party shows a professor, who's the wife of the dean, putting her arm around Afaneh as she's speaking and telling her to leave their home. The incident ignited questions about free speech and privacy rights.

It's what demonstrators are calling a "Free Palestine Camp."

"UC needs to end its silence on the genocide in Gaza, it needs to divest both its direct and indirect investments from weapons companies that are facilitating this genocide," Matt Kovac, a spokesperson of the group called 'UC Berkeley Divest' said.

MORE: 150 arrested at New York University amid pro-Palestinian protests, NYPD says

Organizers say the group has three demands.

First, they want UC Berkeley to end what they're calling the university's "silence in the Palestinian genocide in Gaza."

They're also calling on the university to divest from corporations involved with the Israel-Hamas conflict.

And lastly, they are asking for better protection for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students.

"This issue is often miscommunicated as a sort of campus culture war that pits student against student on the basis of identity and that couldn't be further from the truth," Kovac said. "This is a movement rooted in solidarity and anti-racism and anti-imperialism because that's what we're witnessing in Gaza."

Over the last two months, there have been clashes with Jewish student organizations on campus.

VIDEO: UC Berkeley law student who went viral for protesting at dean's party wants refocus on Gaza

UC Berkeley law student Malak Afaneh, who went viral for protesting at a dean's party, wants a refocus on Gaza and the school's aid to Israel.

"What I anticipate is what happened at Columbia where they gave them a 24-hour notice of the student conduct charges they were receiving. After that, they called in NYPD. I expect the same to happen here, where the school will email us or send a representative to the encampment directly and if not will send in UCPD and Berkeley PD," said Afaneh.

The students say they are willing to risk expulsion and arrest. Cal officials are hoping to keep things peaceful.

"If the protest doesn't disrupt university operations that'll be one situation. If it becomes disruptive and interferes with the rights of students who want to attend class then that will dictate a different kind of response. So we're going to watch carefully," said Cal spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

While things remain peaceful in Berkeley, it's a much different story at Cal Poly Humboldt, as pro-Palestinian protesters barricade themselves inside a building.

The university is calling it a "dangerous and volatile situation," closing campus at least through Tuesday.

"The key to all of these places, it needs to stay safe, it needs to stay respectful, hopefully, we can have this dialogue," O'Rourke said.

RELATED: Video shows Humboldt students, law enforcement clash during pro-Palestinian protest

California State Humboldt says its campus is closed after clash between students and law enforcement during pro-Palestinian protest.

O'Rourke stopped by to check on the students just waking up on his way to class Tuesday.

"Our goal of the university is to kind of challenge what we think and to learn and so I really have been impressed with students across the country standing up to these issues, asking their administrations to be more transparent and then to engage in these issues," he said.

The protesters say they have no plans to leave until their demands are met.

The Bay Area's Jewish Community Relations Council posted to X, saying in part: "While their words are abhorrent, the protesters at UC Berkeley have a right to free speech and assembly, and no violence or obstruction has yet been reported."

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