Students set up indefinite encampment for Palestine at McGill

Hundreds of students demand that McGill and Concordia divest their funds supporting Israel

Photo Hannah-Scott Talib

Starting at 1:30 pm on April 27, students from McGill and Concordia University banded together to create an indefinite encampment by the Roddick Gates on McGill’s main campus.

The coalition of students that organized the encampment contained members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) groups from both universities as well as participants of the McGill Hunger Strike. It was also co-organized by both Concordia and McGill chapters of the Independent Jewish Voices group. At the time of the start of the encampment, around one hundred students were within and picketing around the space. The number drastically increased by the end of the afternoon as passers-by and marchers from a nearby protest led by the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) joined in. 

This encampment comes at a time when student demonstrations to liberate Palestine are at a high at universities around the globe. This week marks the second week of this spike in student protest movements, with students at New York’s Columbia University being some of the kickstarters of the student revolution for Palestine. 

“We are here to follow the revolutionary student movement and demand divestment at McGill and Concordia — it’s the demand of pretty much all the students in North America,” said Ali Salman, spokesperson for the student encampment movement at McGill. “We’re here indefinitely, we’re here until our demands are met, so let’s hope that the community can not only sustain it but also defend it.”

Salman added that the encampment will not end until the students’ demands for McGill and Concordia to divest from funds contributing to the genocide in Gaza are met by the universities.

In a statement released by McGill University on April 29, it was acknowledged that the amount of protesters within the encampment has tripled since it was first set up. The statement equally included a claim that “video evidence of some people using unequivocally antisemitic language and intimidating behaviour” had been seen, and also states that the encampment violates both the “right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly”. McGill administration representatives were eventually sent to the field to make a 'final warning' asking for the encampment protesters to leave. The speech was drowned out by the demonstrators. 

Police presence increased on April 29, but were effectively prevented from entering the encampment.

The PYM Montreal march that coincided with the encampment’s first day began at 2 p.m. at the Guy-Concordia metro station. Protesters made their way up Sherbrooke Street towards McGill University, reaching the encampment at around 3:30 p.m. 

Upon reaching the area, marchers joined the picket line around the encampment, shouting chants such as “Until schools divest, we will not stop, we will not rest” and “listen to the (International Court of Justice) ICJ, genocide is not okay.”

Kanien'kehá:ka activist, artist and filmmaker Ellen Gabriel gave a guest speech at the encampment. 

“We are here to say that all human rights are universal, all human rights are applied to each and every one of us equally, not because we belong to a certain sect or to a certain race, but because we are all human beings and for that, what you are doing today is important,” said Gabriel, addressing the students within the encampment and the crowd gathered around it. 
On the picket line, protesters held up banners that read “Ceasefire”, “Free gaza now”, “Jews against genocide” and more. 

“The warmongers are listening to you right now — they see you, they’re scared of you. Don’t be scared of them, because fear is what they feed off of. Fear is what they want you to feel,” said Gabriel. “What you are doing today is for humanity and what you are doing today is not just for Palestinians but for all people.”

Outreach for the encampment attracted a crowd beyond just McGill and Concordia students as well. 

“I got the news on social media,” said one protester who was granted anonymity for safety reasons. “In the first few hours I think it’s very important to show our support and say that [this cause] is serious, [and] to support legitimate demands.”

The student added that they felt it was heart-warming to be a part of the ongoing global student revolution and seeing the increase in action to push for divestments and a permanent ceasefire in Palestine across North America this week. 

“[The fact] that students can possibly have the time or the capacity to be somewhere — to be at this encampment, to always show up to protests […] I think it’s amazing,” said one Concordia student protester. “Everyone should be doing it but I think students [in particular]. We’re at university to learn, to share ideas, to think critically about situations, and it doesn’t take much critical thinking to see what’s going on is just genocide.”

The encampment is accepting donations of tents, batteries, blankets and more from the general public. Updates on the needs of the protesters can be found on Instagram at the accounts @pymmontreal, @sphrconu and @sphrmcgill. 

Following the publication of this article, The Link was made aware that the Concordia and McGill Independent Jewish Voices chapters also participated in the organizing of the encampment. The article has been modified to reflect this information.