UC Berkeley Encampment: Solidarity and Memory on Campus
April 27 2024
blog Series: 

On April 22, 2024, Day 198 of Israel’s genocide inflicted against Palestinians in Gaza, the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment was born. The encampment has occupied the main plaza of Sproul Hall and extended into the rolling green lawns of the campus on either side. The 50+ tents that line the campus are grounded on the Mario Savio steps, the same steps that witnessed the uprising of the Free Speech Movement, where thousands of UC students protested the university’s restrictions on their political activities beginning in 1964—such activities included fundraising for causes connected to the Civil Rights Movement including voter registration drives in African-American communities. While those same students are now celebrated for their radical organizing by the university, they were criminalized and arrested for their activism, a fate I expect will be given to each one of us as pro-Palestine student organizers. While the university has threatened to put facial recognition cameras at key sites of activism and pushed threats of disciplinary and criminal proceedings, I can predict a future when these very steps will be named the “Free Palestine steps.”  We, too, will be memorialized as a means for the university to profit from its history of organizing while forgetting to mention its disgust for those movements at their peak.

UC Berkely Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Photo courtsey of organizers. 

Draped across the white stone columns of Sproul Hall are multiple banners that read: “Free Palestine Encampment Until UC Divests,” “Glory to the Martyrs, Victory to the Resistance,” and “An Injury to Gaza is an injury to all.” Another banner lists our clear demands: 1) End the Silence, 2) Financial Investment, 3) Academic Boycott, and 4) Stop the Repression. The camp has become a full-functioning operation: tables with food and donations are set to the side, a kitchen with a microwave and equipment is set up in a tent, and lines of food and supplies color the area. Medics, lawyers, legal observers, and media point people switch shifts around the clock; these teams include not only students but alumni, faculty, and community organizers. The medics’ blue scrubs remind me, however, of the mass grave discovered in Khan Younis, where medical workers still in their attire were ziptied and left to die, either martyred or buried alive. In the morning, preschoolers and middle schoolers come by to paint and learn about the movement—their smiles remind me that the kids of those martyred yesterday become the freedom fighters of the future. 

UC Berkely Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Photo courtsey of organizers. 

During the day, alternative programming is done—teach-ins by faculty, a workshop on divestment, and a speech by the Nimbus 9, the very Google Workers fired for being a part of the “No Tech for Apartheid” campaign. Every few hours or so, we see campus security observe the encampment as undercover individuals try to investigate the identities and names of students. We are reminded that the university, although apparently silent, is still trying to collect information on the identities of the main organizers to identify them and criminalize them. These efforts undoubtedly serve to scare others from joining the Gaza solidarity encampments. At night, our anti-Zionist Jewish comrades hold a Passover seder, and at dawn, Muslim students hold prayer beside them.  The scene highlights the beauty of our struggles and our eternal bond for liberation. 

As a Palestinian, my biggest feeling at the encampment is that we, we Palestinians, “we teach life, sir.”* 

*From Rafeef Ziadah’s poem of the same title.
About The Author: 

Malak Afaneh is the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants from Abu Ghosh and Al-Khalil. She is a third-year Berkeley Law student, Co-President of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, and a Bay Area Palestinian Youth Movement organizer. She is one of the student organizers of the UC Berkeley Free Palestine Encampment.

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