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Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

HYDE PARK — University of Chicago police cleared a pro-Palestine protest on the campus' quad early Tuesday, ending an eight-day encampment to demand the university sever its ties to Israel.

Students set up the encampment last Monday at 1100 E. 58th St. in solidarity with Palestinians calling for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. It was part of an anti-war movement at universities nationwide.

The encampment, named “UChicago Popular University for Gaza,” was organized to make the university acknowledge genocide in Gaza, cut ties with Israeli companies and the Israel Institute, publicize its investments in weapons manufacturers and commit to a program of reparations “from Palestine to the South Side,” among other demands.

But after negotiations between university officials and protesters reached an impasse over the weekend, university police barricaded students out of the quad about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, blocking them from the encampment, according to organizers and press on site.

As students pushed back against police and their barricade in an attempt to return to the quad, university officials cleared the encampment.

“Protest is a strongly protected form of speech in the UChicago culture, and the demonstrators had multiple opportunities to express their views,” university President Paul Alivisatos said in a statement around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. “But many aspects of the protests also interfered with the free expression, learning, and work of others.

“Safety concerns have mounted over the last few days, and the risks were increasing too rapidly for the status quo to hold. This morning, the University intervened to end the encampment.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety
Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

University police were joined by Cook County Sheriff's officers in shutting down the encampment Tuesday, according to the Maroon, the UChicago student newspaper which covered the encampment and police raid in granular detail. Chicago Police were not present, the Maroon reported.

Mayor Brandon Johnson's administration and the Chicago Police Department reached out to UChicago leaders “to reiterate serious safety and operational concerns” about the university police department's plan to clear the encampment, Johnson spokesperson Ronnie Reese told the Tribune Tuesday.

Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling said Friday the department has no interest in escalating tensions on Chicago campuses. The next day, Chicago Police arrested 68 protesters at a pro-Palestine encampment near the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where an excessive force complaint was filed against at least one officer.

Kelly Hui, a fourth-year student at the UChicago'scollege, told Block Club she was in her tent early Tuesday when she was alerted to the raid by screams.

“It seemed very clear that it was an ambush, where the university wanted to do this in the dead of night when no one could bear witness to what was happening,” Hui said.

University police in riot gear initially gave protesters ten minutes to disperse, but within “maybe two minutes,” officers “aggressively knocked down barriers” and began to clear the encampment, Hui said.

Police handed students printed notices that said their tents and other items are “unauthorized” and the notice was their “final warning to leave the encampment.” Press and legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild were denied entry to the quad as the encampment was cleared, organizers said.

“If you fail to immediately leave, you will be arrested by law enforcement for criminal trespass under the Illinois Criminal Code,” and students could face university discipline, according to the notice.

In response, a student organizer told protesters they should leave if they were unwilling to be arrested. Police continued to pick up and move student barricades, forcing students further away from the encampment as officers put up their own barricades.

Several hundred people gathered at ta rally near Levi Hall following the raid, with student protesters chanting at police, “The whole world is watching.”

Shortly before 8 a.m., police took down their barricades and allowed students to return to the quad, where the encampment had been removed.

Protesters avoided severe conflict for most of the encampment's existence as they held rallies; teach-ins on topics like cross-racial solidarity, Jewish anti-Zionism, and environmental justice; and prayer services on the quad.

Counterprotesters carrying U.S. and Israeli flags confronted encampment protesters Friday, leading to a brief skirmish between the front lines of each group.

The encampment's closure will not mark the end of pro-Palestinian protests at UChicago, as students will continue organizing around their demands, they said.

“We are the encampment,” protesters shouted shortly after reentering the quad.

“The people are not cowed” by the police shutdown, Hui said. The university's “violent” move to shut down the encampment coincides with Israel's entry into Rafah, the southern Gazan city where nearly 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering after fleeing violence elsewhere — timing which is not lost on protesters, she said.

“I'm holding that deep in my heart right now — centering what's going on” in Rafah, Hui said. The encampment's end “is not going to stop us from demanding that the university divest, disclose and repair its harm and complicity in the ongoing Israeli genocide,” she said.

Other protesters spoke of unity and determination as they reunited in the quad, where outlines of the removed tents formed a patchwork of greens on the grass.

“This encampment was the promise of a better future,” said Eman Abdelhadi, an assistant professor and sociologist who joined dozens of fellow faculty members Monday in a show of solidarity for the encampment.

“It was a practice for the future in which we feed ourselves, in which we keep ourselves safe,” Abdelhadi told the crowd. “We enacted that here, and we will live that future.”

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