‘Very painful getting to this point’: Reaction to dismantling of pro-Palestine encampment at University of Rochester

Reaction to dismantling of pro-Palestine encampment at University of Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After 22 days, the University of Rochester removed the pro-Palestine encampment on campus. The removal comes ahead of this weekend’s commencement.

A student with the Students for Justice in Palestine, who was part of the protest, says he believes the dismantling of the encampments by the university is to silence and punish students involved in demonstrating against the war in Gaza. Meanwhile, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester says she believes in the right to protest peacefully — but also in the need to promote the safety of all students.

Student Laith Awad Mohamad says the removal of the encampment took him by surprise. He says just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, dozens of public safety officers approached the Eastman Quad and gave students two minutes to take down the encampment. He says bulldozers destroyed their belongings, including their phones and laptops, and dismantled the encampment within 40 minutes.

“Hiding their faces with masks — something very unusual for peace officers — and started stating they need the camp dismantled, not giving reasons why; Simply saying that Eastman Quadrant was closed and the people there and us need to take down the encampment,” Awad Mohamad said.

He said pro-Palestine students and faculty urged the university to sit down and have a conversation but said the university was unwilling.

News10NBC asked Awad Mohamad about threats and antisemitic remarks that some Jewish students have reported.

“It’s a narrative that I’ve tried, the students that said that they feel uncomfortable — I’ve approached them and said what exactly. how can we. where can we find a middle ground — where can we find peace between each other?” he said.

Demonstrators were calling for the university to divest from Israel and to call for a case-fire in Gaza.

Meredith Dragon, CEO of the Jewish Federation, says she appreciates the university giving students the time to protest.

“Students have had a long time in the encampment, and I know there have been many Jewish students across the campus that have felt uncomfortable, not being able to move around on campus, being pushed away, having a hard time to get to the library,” Dragon said. “I think in general the way most people feel is a sense of relief.”

She is glad to see it come to an end.

“I think its been very painful getting to this point. I think it would’ve been good for the wealth and well-being of the student body if it had happened sooner,” Dragon said.

According to Dragon, “Some of the language used by the protesters. Some of the verbiage and some of the hate — calling for intifada, the things that make students feel like they are unsafe — that was the issue.”

Award Mohamad said, “There is a claim that Jewish students feel unsafe on our campus but a lot of people in our encampment were Jewish students.”

The University of Rochester said in a statement that the university’s departments of public safety and facilities informed students in the encampment to leave.

The statement said two people not affiliated with the university were arrested on Tuesday morning for damaging one of UR’s large commencement tents. The university added that, with commencement this weekend, it will closely monitor the campus.