‘We’re not going anywhere,’ say pro-Palestinian protesters at McGill encampment

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Students camping out on the McGill University campus in solidarity with Palestinians for a second day say they won’t go anywhere until the university divests from funds with ties to weapons manufacturers, commercial banks, technology firms and other companies they say are “complicit in upholding the apartheid regime of Israel.”

Some students slept at the encampment overnight, while others left and came back in the morning. They held Palestinian flags and signs that read “McGill funds genocide” and “McGill, you have blood on your hands.” 

The encampment of about 20 tents was struck after students launched similar protests on campuses across the United States.

Two student groups, McGill Hunger Strike for Palestine and Students for Justice in Palestine, released a database earlier this month listing 50 companies that the university invests in that the groups say have “links to the ongoing Palestinian genocide.” 

tents behind a gate covered in pro-Palestine signs on McGill University's lawn in Montreal.
On the second day of the encampment at McGill University in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, student protesters said they would stay as long as possible. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Companies, banks and other organizations are included on the list for a variety of reasons, according to the database — such as investing in firms that provide weapons or technology to the Israeli military; operating in illegal settlements; investing in Israeli companies; or operating in Israel.

In a statement, McGill University said it hires external fund managers to handle its investments and “does not invest directly in individual stocks or companies.”

But that response isn’t satisfying to McGill student Umniah Tareq, who is Palestinian.

“I didn’t know there was so much money and so much tangible investment going to the genocide of my people, the violence that happens back home,” she said.

Tareq said it was “empowering” to see students come together and make their voices heard. She said the university has so far ignored concerns about its investment policies brought forward by students and highlighted at protests and teach-ins.

A girl wearing a keffiyeh, round glasses and a blue surgical mask in front of the encampment on McGill's lawn.
Palestinian McGill student Umniah Tareq said she was shocked to learn how much money the university has invested in companies she said are involved in ‘the genocide of my people.’ (CBC)

CBC’s interview with Tareq was interrupted by Laura Nezri, a passerby who said she wanted to “see the situation” for herself. She asked Tareq if she blamed Hamas for the violence in Gaza. Tareq responded by saying she doesn’t “engage with Zionists.”

“I’m very concerned with what’s happening. I’m very worried,” Nezri said. “I’m a Jew, I’m a proud Jew and I have no shame in saying that.

“I think that we’re at extremes. They stand up for so many different principles, and with such a loud and obnoxious voice, but when you give them your opposing opinion, they cut you off.”

Another student, who didn’t give their name out of fear of retaliation from the university and law enforcement, told CBC the students are prepared to camp out as long as they can: “We’re not going anywhere.”

blue tents on a lawn
Dozens of tents were erected on McGill’s front lawn in solidarity with the Palestinian cause Saturday. The encampment continued Sunday. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Israel launched its war against Hamas after the militant group’s attacks on Israel on Oct. 7. During the attacks, some 1,200 people were killed and around 250 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including women and children.

Health authorities in Gaza say Israel’s offensive in the enclave has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians — the majority of them women and children — and has led to the imminent risk of famine, the destruction of key hospitals and, according to the United Nations, the displacement of 1.9 million people.

Professors show support

Professors like Michelle Hartman, who teaches Islamic studies, and Roberta La Piana, who teaches neuroscience, came out to the encampments sporting keffiyehs and holding signs of their own.

“I’m here to fully support the students. I think they have extremely reasonable reasons to be here,” said La Piana. “I’m hopeful McGill’s administration will understand the request from the students and will commit to a more moral and ethical choice towards the divestment of all Israeli support.”

La Piana brought her children to the encampment, where a zone for kids to make crafts was set up. She said she and her kids made kites, in reference to Gazan poet Refaat Alareer’s last poem before he was killed by an Israeli airstrike.

A woman with short grey hair holds up a white kite that says "If I must die, let it bring hope." -Refaat Alareer in red writing
McGill Assistant Professor Roberta La Piana brought her kids to the encampment Sunday in solidarity with students protesting. She holds a handmade kite with a quote from Gazan poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in December. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Others at the encampment, including Jewish students, held Passover celebrations.

Hartman said the students have been “very brave.”

“This is the form that the protests have taken and it’s catching the attention of the whole world, and I feel very proud of the students that they’ve come down here to participate,” she said.

Political response

Since setting up, the encampment has garnered reactions from elected officials, both provincial and federal.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather took to social media Saturday to call on the university and police “to act.”

“We can’t allow what is happening in the U.S. to happen here,” he wrote on X, referring to encampments across American campuses that have led to mass arrests of students and professors.

people celebrating passover
People at the encampment on McGill’s campus, including Jewish students, held Passover celebrations on Sunday. (Rania Massoud/Radio-Canada)

Quebec’s minister of higher education, Pascale Déry, told journalists Sunday that she is “very preoccupied” by the encampment, which goes against university policy, but said it was up to the university’s administration to respond.

In an email sent to students, which was obtained by CBC News, McGill deputy provost Fabrice Labeau said the university is engaged in “discussions with lawyers retained by McGill students in the encampment to arrive at a swift resolution.” It also said it is collaborating with police to “ensure the ongoing safety of the McGill community and of those protesting.”

Montreal Police said they are monitoring the situation.


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