Harvard students end protest as university agrees to discuss Middle East conflict

Cambridge, Mass. (AP) — Protesters against the war between Israel and Hamas were voluntarily taking down their tents in Harvard Yard on Tuesday after university officials agreed to discuss their questions about the endowment, bringing a peaceful end to the kinds of demonstrations that were broken up by police on other campuses.

The student protest group Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine said in a statement that the encampment “outlasted its utility with respect to our demands.” Meanwhile, Harvard University interim President Alan Garber agreed to pursue a meeting between protesters and university officials regarding the students’ questions.

Students at many college campuses this spring set up similar encampments, calling for their schools to cut ties with Israel and businesses that support it.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Harvard said its president and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi Hoekstra, will meet with the protesters to discuss the conflict in the Middle East.

The protesters said they worked out an agreement to meet with university officials including the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the world’s largest academic endowment, valued at about $50 billion.

The protesters’ statement said the students will set an agenda including discussions on disclosure, divestment and reinvestment, and the creation of a Center for Palestine Studies. The students also said that Harvard has offered to retract the suspensions of more than 20 students and student workers and back down on disciplinary measures faced by 60 more.

“Since its establishment three weeks ago, the encampment has both broadened and deepened Palestine solidarity organizing on campus,” a spokesperson for the protesters said. “It has moved the needle on disclosure and divestment at Harvard.”

Harvard alumnus Rotem Spiegler said she’s glad to see the protest being dismantled, but thinks it improper to reward students in part for being disruptive.

“It just should have happened a while ago, and they should have suffered consequences to what they’ve been doing here violating everybody’s space and not respecting any of the university rules that were adjusted even while they were going,” Spiegler said.

Faculty members who supported the demonstration in Harvard Yard said the students achieved “an important step towards divestment from Israel and liberation for Palestine.”

“We honor the bravery of our students, who put themselves at risk to amplify the worldwide call for Palestinian liberation that global leaders have been trying to suppress,” Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine said in a statement.

At the University of California, Berkeley, students demanding the school divest from companies doing business in Israel began removing their campus encampment Tuesday afternoon as protest leaders held discussions with university administrators.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent the demonstrators a letter Tuesday evening agreeing “to support a comprehensive and rigorous examination of our investments and our socially responsible investment strategy.”

At Harvard, student Chloe Gambol, said the biggest achievement of the Cambridge protest was just shining a spotlight on the situation in Gaza.

“The point of a protest is to draw attention and to make a scene and make a stand and, I think, definitely achieved that based on what we see on all the news. A lot of people are talking about it,” she said.

But Howard Smith, a senior researcher at Harvard, said he was happy to see the encampment go down.

“I think the students were very misguided and, basically, historically incorrect and morally off base,” he said. “But I’m pleased that the situation at Harvard was not as crazy as in some other places.”

Protesters also voluntarily took down their tents Monday night at Williams College in Massachusetts after its board of trustees agreed to meet later this month. Williams President Maud Mandel said dialogue is the answer.

“In a year when personal, political and moral commitments are being tested, I have seen our diverse community members — including people in the encampment, and people who question or oppose it — try to engage with each other across differences, looking for ways to exchange views without trading insults,” Mandel said in a statement.

At the University of New Mexico, school president Garnett Stokes warned that the encampment along a busy stretch of the Albuquerque campus needed to be dismantled by Tuesday evening and those who did not comply would be subject to “institutional enforcement.”

The collection of tents and tarps had been in place going on three weeks, inhabited by a mix of activists, some students and homeless people.

Stokes’ message to all students and staff acknowledged the demands of the protesters who have been advocating for a ceasefire along with disclosure of the university’s investment portfolios. She said the school was committed to being transparent.

In western New York, the University of Rochester cleared out an encampment ahead of Friday’s commencement ceremony. Most protesters dispersed voluntarily, but two people unaffiliated with the university were arrested for damaging a commencement tent, school spokesperson Sara Miller said.