Gaza protest encampment grows on Edmonton campus after Calgary sit-in ended by police

Protest encampment grows

A campus protest encampment at the University of Alberta was ramping up a day after a similar sit-in in Calgary was shut down amid the loud noise and haze of flashbang explosives as police clashed with demonstrators.

On the central grassy area of the Edmonton campus Friday, about 35 small tents were set up close together. There were Palestinian flags, both cloth versions and hand-painted cardboard ones.

Early-rising demonstrators, most in their early 20s, sipped coffee as the sun rose, chatting in camp chairs underneath an awning.

Nearby was a handwritten sign reminding protesters to keep the focus on solidarity with Gaza and to direct all media to designated spokespeople.

There were multiple handmade signs and slogans: Our Tuition Funds Genocide; Silence is Violence; Welcome to the People’s University for Palestine; and From Edmonton to Gaza Globalize the Intifada.

Clutches of summer-school students shouldering backpacks walked by, with a few breaking stride to see what was going on.

“At the very beginning yesterday, it was one tent and four people. And it has just grown and grown and grown since then,” said David Kahane, one of the protest organizers.

Kahane, a political science professor on campus, said the protest is about students holding their own institution to account in the “slaughter that is happening in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Kahane said they want answers on whether Israel — and through it the Israeli military — benefits financially through university investments. If the university is investing, those investments must stop, he said.

He said students are inspired by time-honoured protest methods and that campus protests and calls for divestment helped end the racist apartheid system in South Africa.

“They want to call for accountability from their own university,” said Kahane.

The university has warned protesters that while it respects free speech, they are trespassing.

There was no visible security staff from the university and no police Friday morning, and Kahane said he hopes it stays that way

“It’s day-by-day, waiting and seeing how the university chooses to respond,” he said.

“For the moment, I think wisely, they have simply let this peaceful encampment for justice be.

“I hope they continue on that track.”

The protest is one of several recent demonstrations on academic campuses in Canada and the United States in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza.

In Calgary, a similar protest of tents and fences went up early Thursday at the University of Calgary, reaching a peak of about 150 demonstrators by the early evening.

The university said protesters at the encampment were trespassing and asked for help from police, who arrived in riot gear and issued multiple warnings for the crowd to disperse before starting to tear down fencing and tents.

Most protesters left but some who remained were met with shields and flashbang explosives in clashes close to midnight.

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