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Everything to know about the Encampments

Updated: May 18

By Defne Aliefendioglu

Managing Editor

Due to the security and privacy of the individuals interviewed for this article, both interviewees will remain anonymous.

On Wednesday, April 27, as Columbia University President Minouche Shafik was ready to address Congress at a hearing on antisemitism on Columbia's campus, hundreds of Columbia students set up tents on the South Lawn of the university, starting the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment," a movement that would soon echoworldwide.  

Shafik gave the New York Police Department (NYPD) permission to carry out a large-scale arrest the next day. Officials from the NYPD declare that 108 students were taken into custody, making this the largest on-campus arrest at the university since 1968. At that time, 86 students were taken into custody for protesting against the university's discriminatory behaviour towards Black and Brown students as well as its affiliation with the Institute for Defence Analyses, which was conducting weapon research for the Vietnam War. 

On April 29th, as students begin to demand that Columbia University separate itself from businesses that support Israel's operations in Gaza, Columbia University began suspending students who were active during Wednesday’s encampment.

Over the next 13 days, the University witnessed rallies, counterprotests, faculty walkouts, and a shift to hybrid and remote learning for classes and final exams. 

On April 29th, Shaifk gave the encampment a midnight deadline for negotiations dispersal. As the negotiations failed to reach an agreement, the university announced its decision not to divest from Israel and continued to suspend students who took part in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. In response to this, the encampments expanded to other parts of the university’s campus, notably outside of Hamilton Hall, Lewisohn Lawn, and Hartley Hall. 

On April 30th, hundreds of NYPD officers raided the campus, arresting the students and dismantling the encampment. New York City Mayor Eric Adams reported that 282 demonstrators were taken into custody that day. This figure includes those who were at the campground as well as those who had marched from the university to the City University of New York.

During these two weeks, students from around the world carried the Gaza Solidarity Encampment to their own universities that were complicit in the ongoing genocide. Some of these universities include Harvard, Yale, UCLA, MIT, Oxford, George Washington University, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Amsterdam, Sorbonne University, Bologna University, University of Copenhagen, and, among many others, McGill University. 

On April 27th, the McGill encampment began. Students demanded that the university sever its ties and investments with companies that support the genocide of the Palestinian people and demanded full transparency of McGill’s investments. According to McGill’s “Listed Equity Mandates | As at March 31st, 2024,” a publicly available document that lists McGill’s holdings that are above 500,000$, the university invests in nine of the top 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies in the world. Among these companies, the most notable ones that McGill University invests in are Airbus ($2,231,359), Safran ($2,043,634), Thales ($1,258,905), Dassault Aviation Group ($1,965,977), and Lockheed Martin Corp. ($535,531).

Since 2018, the aerospace manufacturer Airbus has engaged in a partnership with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) to develop Heron TP drones, which are utilized in operations targeting Gaza. As per the official website of IAI, this agreement, valued at $600 million, spans nine years and remains active.

Next, according to Safran’s 2022 annual report, the French company has an agreement with the Israeli government to support the development of its Arrow 3 hypersonic anti-ballistic missile system. Additionally, Safran has provided surveillance technologies that monitor Palestinians and restrict their freedom in the West Bank, such as fingerprint scanners, facial recognition systems, and mounted camera systems.

Thales, a UK-based company, worked with the Israeli company Elbit Systems to develop the “Watchkeeper” drone. Back in 2005, Thales partnered with Israeli firm Elbit Systems and established a joint venture company called UAV Tactical Systems. The Watchkeeper, which was modeled after Elbit's Hermes 450 drones, is a "high-performance, tactical unmanned aircraft system," as outlined on Elbit's website, is the result of the partnership between Thales and Elbit. 

In 1962, the Dassault Aviation Group designed a ballistic missile on behalf of the state of Israel called the MD 620, Jericho, as stated on the company’s official website. The company was additionally supporting Israel during the Six-Day War, which resulted in Israel taking control of the Gaza Strip.

Finally, Lockheed Martin, the largest arms producer globally, openly acknowledges its provision of "superior support" to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) on its website. The company provides the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) with both air and ground weaponry, including the Hellfire 9X Missile, the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, and F-35 fighter planes. 

With the mission to challenge these investments, what began with 20 tents rapidly expanded into the largest encampment across Canada,  drawing the attention of news outlets such as Radio-Canada, CNN, CTV News, and, among many others, CBC News

“It’s grown a lot. I would say there are roughly 75 to maybe 100 tents now,” said a Dawson College camper. 

According to the United Nations, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF since October, and, within the first three months of the genocide, Gaza was declared “unlivable.” There are no fully functioning hospitals and universities left standing. On May 6th, Gaza’s last safe zone, Rafah, became the target of heavy attacks after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refused Hamas’ ceasefire offer.  

In a collaborated post that was published by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill, SPHR Concordia, National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill, and IJV Concordia, the demands of the protestors of the encampment consisted of the following:

DISCLOSE all investments in companies complicit in the genocide of the Palestinian people. DEFEND students. No repercussions or disciplinary charges for any actions taken by students of McGill and Concordia in support of Palestine [...] DIVEST from all complicit companies and cut all academic ties with Israeli institutions. DECLARE a statement condemning the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people and calling on the Canadian government to immediately cease all military contracts with the Zionist state.

On the fourth day of the encampment, two McGill students filed an injunction request to prohibit protests near McGill buildings, which was taken to the Quebec Superior Court. The following day, Labeau sent another message stating that “the number of individuals who have set up tents has tripled.” In the same message, Labeau claimed: “Last night we saw video evidence of some people using unequivocally antisemitic language and intimidating behavior [...]” 

27 videos were included in the injunction that the students sent. One of these videos showed individuals chanting “All the Zionists are racist, all the Zionists are the terrorists” and saying “Go back to Europe.” However, protestors at the encampment have stated that the people featured in the video are not part of the campers. 

On April 30th, Justice Chantal Masse heard the arguments presented by Neil Oberman, the lawyer representing the two McGill students. Oberman asserted that Jewish students expressed feeling unsafe on campus. However, Sibel Ataoğul, representing the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSM), countered Oberman's claims, highlighting that Jewish people in the encampment have claimed it to be peaceful. 

With the injunction, the two McGill students were asking for a 10-day prohibition of protesting in any way within a 100-meter radius of all 154 university-owned buildings.

According to an article that was published by The Gazette, Ataoğul informed reporters that the AMPL and the SSM deemed the request to be “abusive.”

"Basically, what it is asking for is to block out a big part of downtown [...] to all protests. We’re talking about protests of any kind. For us, that’s an egregious violation of the fundamental freedoms we enjoy in Canada, Quebec, and Montreal,” the lawyer said. 

On Wednesday, the judge rejected the injunction request, reasoning that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated unredeemable harm caused by the protests and that it was “abusive and sought to silence all discussion that doesn’t fit within a frame that is pro-Israeli.” Additionally, she stated that the approval of this injunction to forcibly remove the protestors would affect their freedom of expression and peaceful gatherings.

On May 1st, images of Palestinian children in Gaza acknowledging the encampments and holding signs thanking the students for their solidarity started circulating on social media. 

“Somebody at the camp announced that those photos were up and showed everybody and I started crying,” the IJV organizer expressed. “We’re here because we’re so enraged that our tuition, you know, our physical money,  is being used to fund this genocide — to fund the bombs, and all those kinds of things, and that’s so disturbing.” “The people in Gaza,” she continued, “they don’t have a lot of service to know that people are still fighting for them and that we are trying to do everything we can. So, seeing those pictures, knowing that they hear us, was very moving.”


On May 2nd, there was a counter-protest led by 10 organizations, including StartUp Nation, Chabad, and Hillel. In the post announcing the protest, it said, “They call for our death so we will celebrate life,” encouraging Montreal to join the counter-protest. The Zionist protestors later gathered outside of McGill's Roddick Gates, which were blocked by Montreal police on bicycles and horseback. The protest began at around 12:30 p.m. and lasted until 3:00 p.m. Outside of the gates, Zionist protestors waved Israeli flags and held signs that read “Bring them home” and “Release the hostages”. Inside the gates, a line of protestors, many of whom were members of IJV Concordia and IJV McGill chanted "Jews against genocide," and "In our lifetime, we will see Palestinians living free."

In response to this, the IJV organizer stated: “It felt very powerful to have everybody show up and support the camp.”

“There is a lot of help and love, there is no type of hatred, and whenever we come across that we just kick them out of the camp. We don't tolerate any kind of abuse of discrimination like Islamaphobia, antisemitism, misogyny, racism, none of it,” expressed the Dawson camper. “We were always taught from the beginning to not engage and to de-escalate. We had people from the encampment working as security and making sure that nothing would escalate or lead to violence. The police did a really good job at separating everyone.”

Christopher Marsicano, an assistant professor of educational studies at Davidson College in North Carolina, affirmed that divestments may likely have a greater political impact than an economic one. 

He said, “Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has already mentioned student protests at American universities publicly. It is clear that these protests have captured the attention of the Israeli government and are putting some pressure on stakeholders to support a ceasefire.”

“I really want divestment from our administration,” stated the IJV member. “And try to put pressure on Concordia as well. It’s just so unfathomable how much money and investments our universities have in weapon manufacturing. I didn’t know the extent of these portfolios before this year and seeing everything that is happening around the world is so upsetting because all of these major universities are so steeped in projects of imperialism.” 



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