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1 week update: UBCO Pro-Palestine encampment demands action

An encampment is demanding that the university divests from companies complicit in the ‘Palestinian genocide’
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Prayer at UBCO encampment on Friday May 18, with caption “If our loved ones in Gaza can pray in the rubble, we can pray in the rain.” (@peoplesuniversityubco/Instagram)

A growing encampment of tents has now been set up in the heart of Kelowna’s UBC Okanagan campus for a week.

On Monday, May 13, at 5 a.m., students and members of the public gathered on the UBCO campus to set up the encampment. The group of tents is surrounded by a barrier of wooden pallets, an orange fence and signs accusing the university of being “complicit” in the “Palestinian genocide,” that is taking place in Gaza.

The youth advocates in Kelowna are joining the global movement called the People’s University for Gaza which is calling on universities to divest from companies that are profiting from or are complicit in the Israeli, “oppression and genocide of Palestinians.”

@kelownacapnews Students and members of the community are speaking out and asking UBC to divest from companies that profit off of "genocide" in Gaza at an encampment on UBCO campus. Video taken May 13, 2024. #studentprotests #ubco ♬ original sound - Kelowna Capital News

Those at the UBCO encampment have requested to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from the public and law enforcement. The group includes students, members of the public, and people from diverse backgrounds including people of Jewish heritage and Palestinian descent, immigrants, international students and Indigenous people. People at the encampment also practice a wide range of religions, with group prayer and worship sessions have been held on campus.

The youth told Capital News that they are only interested in speaking with principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Lesley Cormack and UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon. They said that to date, Peoples University for Gaza at UBCO has not received any official communication from the vice-chancellor or president.

A representative from the People’s University for Gaza at UBCO group spoke with Capital News under the condition that their identity remains anonymous. She said that the group is calling on the University of British Columbia to meet five key demands including divestment, an academic boycott of Israeli Universities, official condemnation of the genocide in Gaza, to keeping police off the campus and reaffirming Palestinian’s right to resist and their right to return.

On May 16, President Bacon issued an official statement saying “We hope for a ceasefire and a lasting peaceful resolution in the Middle East.” He furthered the statement by explaining that to remain respectful of the broad range of opinions held by students and faculty of the university, the academic institution must remain neutral.

Bacon also said that the UBC Endowment Fund does not directly own any stocks in the companies identified by the movement. However, he said funds managed by external investment managers have been invested in companies that were named as being “complicit in Israel’s numerous violations of Palestinian human right,” by the People’s University for Gaza.

Bacon says that UBC is willing to engage in divestment, but its endowment fund does not directly own stocks in companies identified by the movement.

On the matter of a boycott, he says the university respects faculty members who want to engage in academic partnerships.

READ MORE: UBC tells protesters it must remain neutral in Gaza conflict

In Kelowna, the students encamping at UBCO said that the community has been incredibly supportive.

“People from all corners of the community are showing up in different ways. Folks are bringing homecooked meals, blankets, water,” said the anonymous protesters.

Folks at the UBCO encampment said that they have not faced significant push-back from campus security and that the experience has been peaceful over the last seven days.

UBCO said in a statement that the encampment is not impacting any on-campus activities including classes or the upcoming graduation. The university is “monitoring the situation and is calling on everyone to remain safe and respectful.”

When asked what they have learned over the past week, the protesters said that it has become clear that, “The people who hold the most power in this institution would rather stay silent or pretend that their ‘hands are tied’ rather than use their power to condemn and divest from Israel’s genocide of Palestinian civilians.”

“We have learned that the university is entirely unwilling to enact the critical and social justice theories that it prides itself on teaching.”

However, they said that some professors are finding ways to leverage their power, “While encouraging others to do the same.”

Groups including Faculty for Palestine, UBCO, and Professors for Palestine UBC, comprised of professors and staff have been vocal in their support for the demands of the encampment.

The UBCO encampment has been hosting events including teach-ins, prayers, lectures, rallies and workshops that are open to the public.

To learn more visit @peoplesuniversityubco on Instagram.

The people at the UBCO encampment said that they are willing to stay for as long as it takes to have their demands met.