Queen’s encampment packing up as protesters declare small victory in ongoing battle

QUAD spokespersons, from left to right: Jake Morrow, Baraa Abzayed, Yara Hussein, and Zainab, who only shared her first name. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Editorial note: The views and accounts quoted by those protesting at the encampment on Queen’s University do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist and have not been independently verified.

“Children needlessly slaughtered, their potential stolen. An afterthought at best in a campaign of indiscriminate violence and continued genocide against the Palestinian people: tragic, unimaginable, but heartbreakingly common.” This is how one protester at Queen’s framed her reasons for participating in a 12-day encampment at Queen’s University this month.

That encampment will be packed up by the end of the day today, Wednesday, May 22, 2024, the protest leaders — Queen’s University Apartheid Divest (QUAD) — explained at a noon-hour press conference. And though they don’t consider the end of their occupation of the “liberated zone” in a quad behind Richardson and Dunning Halls to be a victory, they do say it is one positive step on what they suggest is a long journey of negotiations with the university.

According to speakers from QUAD, the “liberated zone” encampment was initially planned for one night on Friday, May 10, 2024. The original intention was to disrupt the Board of Trustees meeting on May 10 and 11. QUAD submitted a report to the principal and the Board of Trustees on Thursday, May 9, asking to be added to the board’s open session agenda. At that time, they submitted a 30-page report detailing divestment recommendations and indicating that $150 million of Queen’s endowment funds are invested in companies “that facilitate the violence and Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”

As part of the Palestinian liberation movement, QUAD demanded that Queen’s divest from “all companies and institutions that have upheld and continue to uphold the 76 years of Israeli settler colonial occupation, apartheid, and violence.” 

The group, who define themselves on social media as “a coalition of students, organizations, and faculty united by the belief that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is intrinsic to our collective pursuit of justice,” aims to uphold the legacy of the 1987 Queen’s University South African anti-apartheid movement and the outspoken alumni who succeeded in persuading Queen’s to divest at least partially from South African companies and holdings.

QUAD called the encampment “an escalation tactic” to pressure Queen’s to eliminate its $150 million in problematic investments. And while they could not present the report in the open session, the board chair agreed to meet with student representatives from QUAD along with the principal and incoming board chair, according to the protesters.

QUAD stated that their demands had been addressed and discussed in meetings of their negotiation team with Queen’s administration and that “[Principal] Patrick Deane has since accepted our formal request for divestment, and [he has promised to] commence the committee on divestment within one week’s time.”

Throughout negotiations, QUAD representatives stated, “We actively and consistently reminded them how every 10 minutes another child in Gaza is killed. That every day another child in Gaza gets amputated. That every university in Gaza has been destroyed. We reminded senior administration that they are active contributors of this scholasticide and genocide. Queen’s cannot be platformed as third in the world for its sustainable development goals while investing in the war machine and profiting from Palestinian blood.”

“We have been told that the committee chair will be announced by the end of this week,” they shared, “We have requested two seats on this committee. We have also requested that a committee timeline and selection criteria be provided for transparency and measure of good faith.”

The speakers were proud that the students, faculty, and community of QUAD “and our pressure through this encampment” had brought about the formation of the divestment committee. Still, they said they were under no Illusions: “We do not believe the future meetings and future policy promises are divestment victory. These delays are meant to pacify us. But let it be clear that we will remain persistent towards our goals for full divestment, full disclosure, a full academic boycott in a fully liberated Palestine.”

Regarding the other demands, the group shared that Vice-Principal (Culture, Equity, and Inclusion) Stephanie Simpson has stated they will look into and provide more information on implementing a definition of anti-Palestinian racism, “specifically implementing it through training for staff, faculty, and administration.” 

They also shared that Vice-Provost Sandra den Otter had informed them that “there is no precedent of academic boycott in Queen’s history.” In response, they said, “we take this as a commitment to be the first to ensure Queen’s severs ties from institutions that facilitate these war crimes.”

One of many signs and artworks at the site of the encampment. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“We also demanded that Queen’s take restorative action to rebuild and reinvest in Palestinian academia through the establishment of partnerships with Palestinian universities, and this is something we will continue to pressure the administration to commit to,” they stated.

Finally, they noted that as a precondition to decamping, “we have received confirmation via email from the provost that there will be no retaliation from the Queen’s administration for all protesters and campers.”

However, they made sure to add, “we also want to highlight shameful acts of cowardice and hypocrisy from university leadership when framing the genocide in Palestine and our actions here in this encampment. On day three of our encampment, our principal, Patrick Deane, released a statement in which [the university] continued to use generalized language such as ‘the Middle East conflict,’ continuing to shamefully erase Palestine. He also referred to our actions in the protest as violent and aggressive, when the real threat came from Campus Security and calling police onto our campus.”

The group said they will be releasing more information about “these inexcusable acts of violence” in the coming days. When pressed, they gave details of one specific incident captured on video in which they said Campus Security officers brutally beat and kicked protestors.

“Queen’s administration has largely not responded to any of the reports or dozens of concerns relating to surveillance, harassment, and violence perpetrated by Zionists on our campus over the past eight months. We are mindful of naming victories and aim to be transparent about our struggle.”

“In the past twelve days, senior administration has addressed all six of our demands but has used bureaucratic processes to evade accountability for their complicity in the Palestinian genocide,” they declared. “Queen’s, your hands are red, and we will remind you of this until you take direct and meaningful action to materially meet these demands and fully divest from the Zionist regime.”

This is a developing story with more details to come.

One thought on “Queen’s encampment packing up as protesters declare small victory in ongoing battle

  • Among the many untruths being promoted by the encampment organizers, their repeated claim that “every 10 minutes a child dies in Gaza” is the most easily disproven.

    They are echoing a claim made by the WHO back in the fall, based on faulty UNRWA and Hamas casualty statistics. Assuming that the statistic was currently true (which it wasn’t back then), the number of child casualties would exceed the total number of confirmed casualties for the conflict (Israeli and Palestinian).

    Unfortunately, these individuals cannot be counted on to provide credible information about the conflict which, alongside their lawbreaking and vandalism, taints all their efforts.

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