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UNC SJP protests in support of students arrested at Columbia University encampment

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Students and organizers rally outside of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Students sat in tents, on lawn chairs and on picnic blankets as they played music and chanted in both English and Arabic on Friday — protesting in support of the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" at Columbia University.

The day before, more than 100 students at Columbia were arrested by the New York Police Department while protesting the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza by camping on the university’s South Lawn. In solidarity with the students facing repercussions, members of UNC’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine joined protesters on college campuses across the country Friday in setting up tents of their own.  

Less than 12 hours after UNC SJP and SJP Carolinas announced the emergency rally on social media, students and community members gathered in front of South Building — home to the University's administration offices — beginning at 10 a.m.

“Students of conscious everywhere are standing up and speaking out against their institutions’ complicity in the Israeli genocide of Palestine and Palestinian life,” a press release by UNC SJP said. “Meanwhile, reactionary campus administrations continually repress student activism.”

On Instagram, the organization said it stands in unwavering solidarity with the students who were arrested in New York City.  

Some protesters held a banner that read “CH X NYC FOR PALESTINE'' in front of the crowd as UNC Police and University administration watched from inside. 

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Students hold a banner outside of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

“Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” echoed across the Quad.

Signs placed on the steps of South Building read "Ceasefire Now" and "Free Gaza," calling for UNC's divestment from Israel and Israeli-supporting companies. Red, green, black and white streamers — the colors of the Palestinian flag — lined Polk Place.

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Tents sit in front of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

“It is beyond absurd that students peacefully calling for an end to an ongoing genocide that has killed more than 34,000 people could face arrest and University sanctions,” an SJP member said on the steps of South Building at the rally.

A UNC junior said her friend who attends Columbia had been sharing live footage of the events on her campus.

“I was really just shocked by how, in such a democracy, that could happen,” she said.

The first speaker at the event, a UNC SJP member, thanked the crowd for attending and reminded them of the organization’s demands for University divestment from Israel before speaking about the student arrests at Columbia and the war in Gaza. Other speakers read poems by Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, shared their refusal to be silenced on campus and provided ways for attendees to donate to families impacted by the violence.

Attendees sat on chairs and blankets, listening to English and Arabic music, eating and chatting. While some tossed a frisbee across the Quad, others brought laptops to work. But the crowd didn’t diminish.

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Students and organizers gather outside of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

University administration approached the demonstrators around 2 p.m. stating that the tents violated UNC Facilities Use Standard and demanding they be removed. According to the policy, tents are permitted in major open spaces to the "extent their use is approved by the applicable University official in connection with the scheduling process.”

According to the University, UNC SJP did not obtain approval to erect tents on Polk Place.

In response, protesters lifted the tents and marched with them in the air before repositioning them onto chairs so they were not directly touching the grass. 

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Students and organizers rally outside of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

At 2:50 p.m., SJP announced most of its members would be leaving but would not stop those who wanted to stay. By 3 p.m., the crowd thinned and tents were deconstructed as people cleaned up and police stood on the Quad.

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A first-year master’s student who asked to only be identified by her initials E.F. said she has closely followed the ongoing situation in Palestine for years and now the protests at Columbia and across the United States. 

E.F. said she does not want her tuition money to benefit Israel in any way. 

“We're not just dumb kids,” she said. “They understand that we will continue to protest and stay in place until they realize that we are not going to let our money be used like this.”

A UNC first-year student said she attended the rally to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and the students of Columbia, who she believed were unjustly arrested. 

She said she hoped the efforts of those at the demonstration let administration know that UNC students care about Palestine and want to see the University divest from Israel.

“I just think it’s important that the University knows that we care about what’s happening,” she said.

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A sign is held up outside of South Building on Friday, April 19, 2024.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included incorrect information about the policy regarding temoprary structures on UNC grounds. The Daily Tar Heel apologies for this error.