University of Waterloo students and community members set up camp in Gaza

University of Waterloo students and community members set up camp in Gaza
University of Waterloo students and community members set up camp in Gaza

A group of students and community members from the University of Waterloo have set up a camp on campus to protest the war in Gaza.

The group set up fences, chairs and tents outside Graduate House on Monday morning to protest divestment through the launch of the so-called “Gaza House Encampment.”

Occupy University of Waterloo (Occupy UW), the student group behind the camp, says it is “following in the footsteps of three other active camps at Ontario universities demanding divestment from Israel’s genocide in Gaza.”

The protesters say they do not plan to leave until their demands are met.

“We will stay here until our demands are met and they are very basic human rights demands. We want the university to make all their investments public,” said Nicholas Joseph, media liaison for the protesters.

The group alleges that the university invests in companies with ties to Israel-linked weapons and weapons manufacturers.

Occupy UW released a list of demands, including that the university declare its support for an immediate ceasefire.

The university said students have the right to express their opinions, but that violence or hate speech will not be tolerated.

“We will continue to work with those who gathered and the entire campus community to ensure we continue to support the right to freely assemble and the right to come to study, learn, and work safely,” Rebecca Elming, director of media relations for the University of Waterloo, said in an email.

On divestment, the university said it will consult and develop guidelines for institutional partnerships.

“With respect to the demands of this group, the University has committed to considering the issues raised regarding investments with both the Finance & Investment Committee and the Pension Investment Committee of the Board of Governors,” Elming said in the email. “Both committees are already in the process of revisiting investment reporting and the environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors that fund managers consider.”

‘Very disturbing’

The Jewish campus organization Hillel Ontario calls the protest “deeply disturbing” for Jewish Canadians.

“What we are seeing now, with signs of intifada and globalized resistance, are violent expressions of real conflict being imposed on Jewish students on campuses in Ontario,” said Jay Solomon, Chief Advancement Officer at Hillel Ontario.

Solomon said the university should play a greater role in ensuring that Jewish students, and all students, can attend school free from bullying, intimidation and discrimination.

“I can tell you that this school year alone we have seen a fourfold increase in reports of anti-Semitism compared to last year alone,” Solomon said.

Student Response

Some students on campus were somewhat surprised Monday when they saw the camp.

“It’s interesting to see how they gather around the school to stand up for what they believe in. I respect that. But honestly, I’m not that involved in this. Personally, I don’t encourage this activity in school because I think school is a place to learn, not to protest,” said Nam Tren, a mechanical engineering student.

“I really didn’t expect it to happen on our campus. I know I’ve seen it happen in the U.S.,” said Dante Gallo, a sophomore environmental and business studies major. “I didn’t think it would migrate here. I mean, I guess it’s to each their own, but it’s different, not something I’m used to. I know there’s a lot going on there and something needs to happen. I don’t know if this is what’s going to impact it and change it.”

The university said an update would be provided at next month’s Board of Trustees meeting, meaning the camp could remain in place well into June.

Camps have also been set up at universities in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, among others.