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Williams College Students Start Encampment over Gaza
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
07:30AM / Thursday, May 02, 2024
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Williams College students participate in a protest encampment over Gaza on Wednesday.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Several dozen student protesters Wednesday began an encampment at the heart of Williams College's campus to amplify their demands that the school divest from companies with ties to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
The move follows months of protests on campus, at the Field Park rotary and in town hall from students and other residents concerned about indiscriminate bombing that has reportedly killed more than 30,000 Palestinians since Israel began its response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group.
It also mimics similar encampments on college campuses around this country, most notably at places like New York’s Columbia University, where student protests led to the occupation of an administration building and, ultimately, the arrest of nearly 300 protesters.
At about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, students sang protest songs and listened to speakers on the Williams Quad, surrounded by a ring of tents set up in the wee hours of the morning.
On Monday, Williams College President Maud Mandel sent a campus-wide message reminding students of the college’s policies on demonstrations and noting that encampments, “in and of themselves do not violate any college rule.”
On Wednesday afternoon, senior Hannah Bae and sophomore Deena Iqbal of the local chapter of the group Students for Justice in Palestine, said that they were aware of the college’s policies and that the encampment was not violating them.
The pair said the students planned to sleep in the tents, and they put no timeline on the protest.
“We came out here at 4 a.m.,” Iqbal said. “We’ll be here indefinitely in order to put as much pressure as we can on the administration.
“We are currently complying with the college’s policies [on demonstrations].”
Neither said they anticipated a need to occupy nearby Hopkins Hall, home to, among other things, Mandel’s offices.
“We’ve seen across other campuses, within institutional bounds, protesters being arrested,” Bae said. “Things do get escalated in ways that are unpredictable.
“We’re following the regulations. But protest is an act that is inherently counter-institutional.”
The pair said the students mounted a protest last month tied to a quarterly meeting of Mandel’s bosses, the college trustees. And Students for Justice in Palestine is working with a faculty-staff-student-alumni committee at the college on the issue of divestment.
“We’ve been working through the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility,” Bae said. “Another [college] group we’re working with, Jews for Justice, called for the ACSR to convene.”
A flier circulated at the encampment by the two student groups explained why divestment by the college matters.
“Divestment is a tactic that places economic pressure on corporations through targeting and depleting their profits,” the flier reads. “In the case of Palestine, the national movement for divestment targets weapons manufacturers and, more broadly, corporations in business with the state of Israel and, thus, upholding Israel’s settler-colonialism and apartheid regime.
“As revealed in a meeting with President Mandel in fall 2023, the college’s endowment is, in part, funding weapons manufacturing and, thus, funding genocide. As long as the amount of money invested in death and destruction is ‘not zero,’ the complicity of the college in the ongoing crisis is ‘not zero.’ “
Organizers of the encampment had a daylong series of events planned for attendees, including a student-led teach-in at 7 p.m.
At 12:30, there was a song-writing/song-sharing event, where speakers noted that the first day of the encampment coincides with International Workers Day, marked each year on May Day.
The speakers pointed to a tie between the struggles of workers around the world for economic justice with the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.
“All oppression is interconnected,” one speaker said. “Liberation anywhere is a step toward liberation everywhere.”
The location of the encampment, meanwhile, coincides with the spot where Williams plans to hold its commencement on June 2.
Bae, a graduating senior, declined to speculate on whether the protest still would be ongoing when the college needs to set up for the event. But she indicated that the choice of the central quad is coincidental.
“We’ll have to see,” Bae said of the timing. “Other groups on other campuses have been strategic about where they set up their encampment. We are here because this is a central place on campus.”
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