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UCLA protest, photo by Ed Rampell.

On May Day I went to embattled UCLA to cover the ongoing student revolt there. At the barricades I met with a young woman who called herself “Mona,” the press spokesperson for UCLA’s Palestine Solidarity Encampment. Mona gave me a copy of the student occupiers’ demands:

“Divest: Withdraw all UC-wide and UCLA Foundation funds from companies and institutions that are complicit in the Israeli occupation, apartheid, and Genocide of the Palestinian people.” The demands went on to call for UCLA to: “Disclose… full-transparency to all UC-wide and UCLA Foundation assets including investments, donations, and grants.” “Abolish Policing: End the targeted repression of pro-Palestinian advocacy… and sever all ties with LAPD” and “Boycott” ties to Israeli universities. The antiwar students also demanded that UCLA “call[s] for “ceasefire and end to the occupation and Genocide in Palestine.”

Mona and I have stayed in contact and I interviewed her via phone May 11 about the ongoing campus resistance.

How do you want to be identified?

Mona: Just my first name, Mona, would be preferred. Media Liaison for the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment.

Tell us what you’re comfortable saying about your personal background?

I’m an undergraduate student here at UCLA. I’m a political science major. I’m originally from California. Religiously I am Muslim…

I don’t use my full name for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I’d like to maintain my privacy as an individual… My safety and prevention from retaliation is a part of that.

What is the latest situation as of May 11 regarding UCLA and the student protesters?

So, right now, we’re going to continue to push to get our demands met. One way we’re doing that is we created an email template for students and other concerned members of the community to email to [UCLA Chancellor] Gene Block to continue to reiterate our demands. Because, at the end of the day, in whatever way we can, we’re going to continue to work to get those demands met. [The email template is here and can be emailed to: chancellor@conet.ucla.edu.]

…The student senate is preparing to go into a [censure and/or no confidence] vote regarding Gene Block – however, the vote got pushed back. [By May 8, UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council, the governing body of the Undergraduate Students Association, demanded Block’s resignation.

President Biden has said that the student protests rocking US college campuses hasn’t changed his policy vis-à-vis Israel’s war in Gaza. But around May 8, Pres. Biden paused the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel, stating he didn’t want these munitions used by the IDF on Rafah. Do you feel that Biden’s suspension of shipment of some weaponry to Israel is a result of the pressure student and other protests have brought to bear on the White House?

At the end of the day, when it comes to protests, particularly student-led ones, there’s been a long tradition of these protests having an impact on these things. While our demands are addressed specifically at the university, our goal is to stand in solidarity with Palestine.

But do you feel Biden is actually hearing the protests that have rocked scores of college campuses and that he’s feeling the heat of the student uprising?

We’re definitely doing our best to really pressure the university administration and the ones who are connected to UCLA.

What threats are UCLA student protesters facing from the administration and security forces?

Yeah, for sure. Just last week we did see how the university responded to the Encampment and the movement and we saw that when the police breeched the Encampment and how an ex-IOF soldier was present that day and collaborating with the police forces there and in the way that the police forces held back and didn’t separate agitators from the Encampment on Tuesday, April 30, which went into the [early] hours of May 1. So, we kind of see that the University has been using these police forces in ways to try to prevent the movement from continuing. And these tactics are very similar, if not completely the same, as the tactics of the IOF.

Please clarify what you mean by “IOF” [instead of IDF – the Israel Defense Forces]?

The Israel Occupation Forces.

Are protesters also being threatened with expulsion, suspension, eviction from dorms?

As of right now, these threats haven’t been carried out against students, as far as we’re aware. However, disciplinary measures were threatened previously, before April 30.

Given that UCLA students have so much to lose by engaging in campus protest and – unless they’re on scholarships – pay so much to attend UCLA, what motivates them to take action that places them in harm’s way?

The primary motivation for this movement, especially as students, is because we feel the genocide that’s happening in Gaza right now. And we want to stand in solidarity with Palestine. Within the past 24 hours we’ve started to hear reports of detainment camps that have such horrific conditions. Not only that, but we’re continuing to hear about mass graves being discovered in Gaza behind hospitals…

All of these accounts and testimony that what’s happening in Gaza, in Palestine right now is on top of the over 35,000 people who have been murdered in Gaza. And almost 76 years of occupation. So, for us, it’s really about standing in solidarity with Palestine and continuing to do what we can as students to really push to make the world a better place and to prevent this from continuing.

What percentage of the Encampment’s participants would you guesstimate were of Palestinian origin, Arab, Muslim?

I think that’s a really great question. When it comes to the Encampment and its demographics, honestly there was a very diverse set of backgrounds present. Whether they were Muslim; whether they were Jewish; whether they were Arab; whether they were specifically Palestinian – the range was so wide and diverse and that did continually shift throughout the week as more people were able to show up. So, we didn’t keep track of specific demographics, but considering the diversity of the students who were present, there were lots of students from all types of backgrounds.

To play devil’s advocate: If I’m a UCLA student but I don’t have any Palestinian, Arab and Muslim background, why should I care about what’s happening in Gaza, to the point where I’m going to put my well-being on the line?

For sure. When it comes to that question, we’ve seen lots of students over the past couple of weeks – those who haven’t had a lot of ties, faced that question themselves. A lot of them have seen the atrocities that are happening, the violence being carried out against the people in Gaza right now, and as a human, seeing other people going through that, seeing these violent attacks, seeing them being killed, really is that sense of compassion, and that sense of empathy, that for a lot of students who I’ve gotten to know over the past couple of weeks who have become more conscious of what’s happening and more willing to stand up to, to stand up in solidarity with Palestine. A lot of it is what’s been happening.

Describe the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment itself?

For sure. When it comes to the Encampment the primary reason why we were gathered there was to be in solidarity with Palestine. A lot of times the Encampment would work to engage with the people inside of it. Whether that was through teach-ins hosted by faculty who came in to talk about the connection of the struggle all across the world, and how standing in solidarity is so important. Watching films that are related to this; or creating artwork to express solidarity and the sentiment of the Encampment. Engaging in conversations and dialogue to continue to further our own education on how we can stand up in solidarity with Palestine.

Throughout the Encampment, while it was up, there were Muslim services, as well as Jewish services for the students within the Encampment who did practice those faiths and wanted to continue to engage with their communities. There was that sense of solidarity and full commitment and willing to continue to work together within these types of events that were all centered around solidarity as a whole.

…[Physically] the Encampment was primarily set up of tents, blankets, as well as a couple of canopies to cover over tents that had been set up for medical care, as well as for food, which was primarily based on community donations. When it comes to the [wooden] barrier of the encampment, that was set up to protect students from the outside agitators who started to show up almost immediately after the Encampment was set up, and continually harassed students within it. The university administration set up metal barricades to fence off the section from others… they were not set up by the Encampment.

You just used the term “outside agitators.” Do you mean they weren’t UCLA students?

Yes. Primarily a lot of the individuals who were harassing students at the Encampment were not part of the UCLA community and had shown up specifically to harass and threaten violence against the students within the Encampment.

On April 30 when counter-demonstrators attacked the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment, who were the counter-protesters? And what happened?

That goes again to some being outside Zionist agitators who were present, there specifically with the intent of harming people inside of the Encampment… That night, these agitators rushed the Encampment barriers at a little before 11:00 [p.m., April 30] and started to tear away pieces of the Encampment. Also use them to attack the students, as well as throw fireworks into and above the Encampment, three of which exploded both within and right on top of students. As well as spraying them with bear spray, pepper spray and Mace, and throwing other things like metal projectiles.

This continued on until approximately 2:00 a.m. Which is how long it took for any police force to show up, as campus-hired security stood by and watched and did not help the engaged or separate these agitators from the Encampment. Even when cops did show up a little before 2:00 a.m., it took them almost an hour to actually move in and try to separate the agitators from the Encampment. In the police response – and in the attack itself – we can kind of see the consistency of the ideology and the tactics being used to try to suppress the Encampment. Because we can kind of see how police forces are tied to the IOF, both in their tactics and in the way that they collaborated.

On May Day there was a dispersal order to the Encampment to leave by 6:00 p.m. Do you believe that the massive outpouring of solidarity and formation of hundreds of students with locked arms on the steps leading up to the Encampment delayed police from raiding it around 6:00 p.m.?

When it comes to the student and community support that the Encampment saw on May 1, it was definitely motivating and supportive for the Encampment to see that presence and for that presence to help kind of hold the line and prevent police forces from starting to reach the Encampment. The police tactics that we did see that night were very reminiscent, if not exactly the same, as IOF techniques that they used to harm individuals.

We can kind of see that because we know that least one ex-IOF special operations soldier who was present that night, Aaron Cohen [According to Wikipedia: “ In the mid-1990s, he became a member of the undercover Duvdevan Unit… of the IDF Commando Brigade, performing counter-terror operations targeting suspects among the Palestinian Arab population in the West Bank.”], who posted on social media about his time at UCLA on Wednesday night and his support of the police forces who were there.

So having that student engagement and support there was very motivational for the Encampment to continue to hold the Encampment present and to continue to push for divestment and the other demands of the movement.

Is Aaron Coehn an enrolled UCLA student or faculty?

No.

What happened when the security forces raided the Encampment?

When it came to the early morning hours when they did move in [on May 2], police were using flashbang grenades… which obscures vision and went off so loudly that student hearing was damaged, as well… [There were] other tactics to kind of dismantle the barricades and the human chain that was trying to protect the Encampment. That included shooting students with rubber bullets, at least five of which hit students in the head and we know of at least 15-plus people needing emergency services as a result of the police’s actions that night. So, the Encampment saw police beating protesters with metal batons and being violent towards students and the people of the Encampment.

Over 200 people were arrested.

What has happened on campus since the Palestine Solidarity Encampment was dispersed?

The movement is going to continue in whatever shape that it is. Since May 2 there have been efforts to mobilize the student body in ways to pressure the administration, as well as faculty and other members of the UCLA community… [such as the aforementioned] email template to send to Gene Block’s office.

[Early May 6, 40-ish protesters were arrested by LAPD and LASD in a UCLA parking garage. After LAPD confronted other demonstrators staging a sit-in at Moore Hall, a march was held through the campus to Dodd Hall and beyond. L.A. Times reported: “While campus was supposed to resume normal operations Monday, a Bruin Alert issued just before 9 a.m. Monday said ‘classes and work in Moore Hall will be remote today due to ongoing disruptions.’” For the rest of the quarter, all UCLA classes are being held online. (The Encampment’s full statement.)

…When it comes to graduation, many other colleges were supposed to have their ceremonies close to now. But UCLA is on the quarter system for its undergraduates, so their graduation isn’t until June. There’s not a lot that we can touch on in regards to how UCLA is responding to graduation yet.

Democracy Now reported [during the week of May 6] more than 2,500 students in the U.S. have been arrested for opposing the war in Gaza. What outreach is there to and coordination by the UCLA protesters with USC and other college student protesters across the country?

When it comes to the connections between student movements across universities, we are going from a very strong tradition of student organizing. Whether that’s from UCLA or across college campuses across the United States, so we know that we’re not the first Encampment to have popped up and even this movement isn’t the first time that we’ve seen students organize and push for universities and administrations to divest. This is a student-wide movement, so lots of times students do have friends who are from out of state, or have friends at other universities; in that case, communications are open. The work that we’re doing here as a whole is a student-led movement that isn’t limited in any organizational way.

For us it goes back to the fact that all of the universities in Gaza have been destroyed. And we know that college students there have lost that space to be able to voice their thoughts and to use that space to organize. So, it’s very important for us, no matter which campus… is that solidarity with Palestine in however way we can.

Has there been contact with non-student, pro-Palestinian, peace groups here and abroad?

…When it comes to community support, whether from organizations or individuals, we did see a lot of that in ways they supported the Encampment with food. And outside community organizations continue to stand in solidarity with Palestine.

In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon wrote about Spontaneity: Its Strength and Weakness. During the ’60s groups such as SDS and the MOBE organized antiwar resistance. Are there moves to create a national organization to coordinate ongoing antiwar causes and opposition?

Yeah. When it comes to the national level of organizing, we know there are already organizations set up and we know those efforts will continue. How that plays out on the national level remains to be seen.

What do you think of the way MSM has framed the narrative and the antiwar protesters?

When it comes to the media focus on protesters, our primary focus has always been Palestine and solidarity with Palestine. It’s never just about us as individuals or about college campus movements, our focus has been on Palestine. Our specific focus now is on Rafah and the attacks on Rafah in Gaza.

There has been commentary and reports alleging that the student protesters are pro-Hamas?

At the end of the day, our focus is Palestine, the people of Palestine. Our focus is ending the violence that is ongoing. Our focus is ending the UCLA administration’s complicity and profit in the genocide in Gaza.

There has been commentary and reports alleging that the student protesters are anti-Semitic?

…As mentioned earlier, the Encampment itself has had religious services for both Muslim students and Jewish students. Our focus has been about solidarity – never about exclusion.

What is the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment’s position re: the hostages being held by Hamas?

At the end of the day, the Encampment and the movement as a whole is more focused on the origin of violence and preventing that from continuing and preventing the genocide that we see playing out from continuing.

By “origin” are you referring to decades of occupation and the siege of Gaza?

Yes. We are referring to the violence that’s being enacted

Speaking of “violence,” what is the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment’s position re: the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attack? The killing and abducting of civilians, children, women?

So, again, our focus is on Palestine and on preventing this genocide from continuing.

The post The Battle of UCLA: Inside the Class Struggle appeared first on CounterPunch.org.


This content originally appeared on CounterPunch.org and was authored by Ed Rampell.

Citations

[1] The Battle of UCLA: Inside the Class Struggle - CounterPunch.org ➤ https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/05/14/the-battle-of-ucla-inside-the-class-struggle/[2]https://ugc.production.linktr.ee/751dfe08-c6b0-4c8a-9878-29759cb3cb99_Block-Email.pdf[3]chancellor@conet.ucla.edu[4] Duvdevan Unit - Wikipedia ➤ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duvdevan_Unit[5] Aaron Cohen Counterterrorism Expert Joins LASD SRT Moments Before UCLA Terror Encampment Takedown - YouTube ➤ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVDFNIFjO9g[6]/Users/Edward/Downloads/fascism%20is%20here.pdf.[7] The Battle of UCLA: Inside the Class Struggle - CounterPunch.org ➤ https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/05/14/the-battle-of-ucla-inside-the-class-struggle/[8] Home - CounterPunch.org ➤ https://www.counterpunch.org/