Palestinian solidarity encampment begins at UBCO

UBC Okanagan (UBCO) community members began an encampment on May 13 at the UBCO Central Courtyard in solidarity with Palestine.

Signs reading “Students for Palestine” and “Blood On Your Hands, UBC” were attached to crates creating a fence around the Central Courtyard, where protestors were set up in tents. Approximately 15 protestors were inside the encampment on May 13, at noon, after the encampment began at 5 a.m.

In an Instagram post, organizers People’s University UBCO listed its demands for UBC. These include divesting from “companies complicit in the Israeli apartheid regime and in the oppression and genocide of Palestinians,” boycotting Israeli universities and institutions and publicly condemning and demanding an end to what organizers and human rights experts call a genocide in Gaza.

According to a report issued by a United Nations-appointed expert, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

This encampment started about two weeks after the Palestinian solidarity encampment on MacInnes Field on the Vancouver campus. Since the encampment began, students at UBC Vancouver have also occupied university buildings, spoken at the UBC Vancouver Senate and held a sit-in at the UBC President’s Office.

UBCO Faculty for Palestine has issued a letter of support for People’s University UBCO.

“We will support UBCO students’ right to academic freedom in their peaceful expressions for change,” read the letter.

In November 2023, UBCO’s Students Union Okanagan called on UBC’s Board of Governors to divest from “companies related to the perpetuation of Israeli settlements in Palestine” including Bezeq The Israeli Telecommunication Corp Ltd., Bank Hapoalim BM, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Lockheed Martin among others.

In December 2023, in a message to the UBC community, UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon said UBC does not support the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement which advocates for removing economic support for Israel.

In a May 7 statement, Bacon said the university’s endowment fund doesn’t directly own any stocks that are the target of divestment demands. Instead, capital, which is managed by external investment managers, is held in pooled funds which amount to about 0.28 per cent of the endowment fund — approximately $7.8 million of the university’s $2.8 billion endowment.

In a statement, UBCO said protest actions must adhere to university policy and that the university is “monitoring the situation and is continuing to liaise with law enforcement to ensure the safety of those both inside and outside the protest area.”

The statement also said any actions that create “health and safety risk; constitutes hate or discrimination; impede students, faculty and staff from continuing learning, research, work and other activities on campus; or damage university property” will be investigated. UBCO has not taken any action so far to remove the encampment.

“UBC values freedom of expression and respects peaceful protest,” read the statement.

“The university also recognizes that Israel and Palestine evokes complex emotions, and we recognize the concerns of many in our community.”

In a statement to The Ubyssey, People’s University UBCO said the encampment is in “solidarity with Palestine in the face of Israel’s ongoing genocide — a genocide that UBC is aiding and abetting.”

The group also said it has hosted events open to community members and has voiced its demands since the first day of the encampment and that UBCO administration has not responded to its demands.

“The community understands clearly now that even after 223 days of genocide, UBC would rather choose the slaughter of Palestinians over divesting from Israeli war and occupation.”