Canada

Pro-Palestinian encampment begins at U of Manitoba with list of demands for university

Students at the University of Manitoba have started a pro-Palestinian protest encampment on a grassy open area on the campus in south Winnipeg.

About two dozen people were on hand Tuesday morning at the start of a protest that organizers plan to run until Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The protest, organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, is one of many across North America against Israeli actions in Gaza.

Israel launched attacks in Gaza in response to a deadly assault by Hamas on Israeli soil on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people were killed that day, when Hamas gunmen stormed Israel near the Gaza border. Another 252 people were abducted, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials. The United Nations has said famine is imminent in the enclave.

A handful of spokespeople from the U of M pro-Palestinian protest met with reporters early Tuesday afternoon but imposed restrictions on what they would talk about and questions they would take.

They also refused to provide their last names, citing “security reasons.”

Among their list of demands is for the University of Manitoba to divest from any companies involved in genocide or discrimination against Palestinians.

Asked whether they are aware of any U of M investments with Israeli-affiliated companies, one of the spokespeople, identified as Victoria, said the university’s investment structure is difficult to navigate “but it is possible.”

The group also wants the university to implement safety protocols for Palestinian students and their allies, saying since October 2023, acts of harassment and racism have escalated and “often stem from fellow students at the University of Manitoba.”

About two dozen people were on hand at the start of the protest at the U of M Tuesday morning. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

A spokesperson who identified herself as Zahra said the group is demanding the university support students’ right to peaceful advocacy without fear of punitive actions.

She cited the suspension late last year of U of M nursing student Arij Al Khafagi for making social media posts critical of Israel’s actions in its war against Hamas.

The university has said it supports the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest, and regular activities on the campus are continuing as planned.

It has also offered to meet with the group and has sent them “terms and conditions” to setting up the encampment on campus, Brandi Usick, the university’s executive director of student engagement and success, told CBC News in a Zoom interview Tuesday.

Those conditions highlight “expectations around behaviour” and how the group can ensure “the safety of themselves but also the larger campus community,” Usick said.

Pro-Palestinian encampment begins at U of Manitoba

A three-day encampment is underway at the University of Manitoba. Students are advocating for Palestinians in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. It comes as similar protests have popped up on university grounds across Canada and the United States.

Other demands the group has for the university include:

  • Joining the global academic boycott of “Israeli institutions implicated in human rights violations.”
  • Suspending exchange programs with Israeli academic institutions.
  • Issuing a public statement endorsing Palestinian rights.
  • Introducing a new course in Palestinian identity to provide a better understanding of its cultural, historical and political aspects.
  • Ceasing exchange programs and academic collaborations with Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Usick said the university is reviewing all of the group’s demands, adding the school already has a course that focuses on Palestinian identity.

“We do promote academic freedom in terms of faculty members choosing what they are going to be teaching and how … they may teach courses,” Usick said, “but my understanding is we do have something on the books already.” 

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