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Anti-war protesters end encampment at Cornell

After more than two weeks on Cornell University’s Arts Quad, a pro-Palestinian encampment came down Monday night. Demonstrators left willingly, packing away tents and boxing up excess supplies for donation.

There was no police action, which has occurred at other universities, or a concession of the demonstrators’ demands, as seen at Northwestern and Brown.

The group responsible for the encampment and anti-war protests throughout the semester, the Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation, is calling for broad structural reforms at the university, including financial and academic divestment from weapons manufacturers, and the creation of Palestinian and Indigenous studies departments.

The group said representatives met with Cornell President Martha Pollack last week and they hope to continue negotiations with university leadership.

Protesters originally said the encampment would not disband unless material action was taken on their demands.

Eliza Salamon, a representative from Cornell’s Jewish Voice for Peace and member of the negotiating team, said demonstrators now want to use the momentum from the encampment for future organizing.

“It's time to refocus our efforts elsewhere,” she said.

Demonstrators closed out with a vigil for the dead in Rafah and reflection on the encampment, by participants.

The gathering drew a crowd of around 200 people from Cornell’s campus and the Ithaca community.

Speakers assured the crowd that although the physical encampment was gone, the movement behind it remains.

“People think because we are leaving today that there is no more fight,” one speaker said. “I promise if I have to stand alone, I will fight.”

Malak Abuhashim, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at Cornell, helped organize the encampment because of her family in Gaza, many of whom have been killed or displaced since the war began.

She said the encampment provided her with a sense of safety in a time of emotional turmoil.

“It has helped me grieve. It has helped me love. It has helped me feel loved,” she said. “It has helped me feel at home.”

Alaa Farghli said the pro-Palestinan movement on Cornell’s campus helped him to take back his Arab and Muslim identity, an identity he once felt he had to distance himself from.

“Because of the movement, I have reclaimed who I am more strongly. In a manner of speaking, Palestine has liberated me,” he told the crowd. “In return, how could I not give my all to liberate Palestine?”

The vigil ended with poetry, interfaith group prayer, and the planting of a boxelder maple tree that protesters described as a “strong, scrappy, native tree with roots that are hard to kill.”

In a statement sent out on Tuesday, Cornell President Martha Pollack said she did not condone the encampment but was grateful the demonstration remained peaceful.

She said there would be no more encampment related suspensions, provided students did not violate additional Cornell policies, and that existing suspension cases would be "promptly and carefully" reviewed.

She also condemned reported incidents of slurs targeting Jewish members of the encampment and the use of the word "terrorist" to describe protesters, which she said was an "expression of anti-Arab discrimination."

Previously, Pollack said the encampment “causes the very kind of disruption that the rules are intended to protect against,” referencing noise heard in classrooms, the diversion of university staff and resources, and the displacement of other events scheduled to take place on the Arts Quad.

The Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation said six participants have been suspended because of their participation in the encampment, including international students.

Updated: May 14, 2024 at 5:13 PM EDT
This article was updated to include Cornell President Martha Pollack's statement on the encampment's closure.