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Encampment Day 8: Rally event, Holocaust Walk of Remembrance, counter-protesters, Rafah invasion

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As of May 6, the UCI campus enters week six of the academic quarter, protesters continue to maintain the UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the physical sciences quad.  

Negotiations between UCI administration and protest leaders restarted on May 6 and will continue until the end of the week. 

In the afternoon, encampment protesters held a rally reiterating divestment demands from 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Also at 12:00 p.m., the Holocaust Walk to Remember recognized victims of the Holocaust as the event returned to campus through Hillel at UCI and the UCI Center for Jewish Studies. New University spoke with an encampment protester, who requested anonymity, about the connection between the encampment rally and Walk to Remember.

“I’m glad they’re doing a Holocaust Remembrance Day because of course, a genocide isn’t something that should ever be forgotten, especially with an ongoing genocide at the same time,” the protester said. 

No direct interactions between participants in the Holocaust Walk to Remember and encampment rally at the time of the walk were reported. After the memorial march, some participants from the walk  appeared at the encampment with signs and Israeli flags despite instruction from the walk’s organizers to not interact with the encampment. During the encampment rally, leaders similarly told protesters to not interact with counter-protesters in any way. 

Photo by Sarah Millington / Staff
Photo by Sarah Millington / Staff

“We will not engage. You ignore them. Do not look at them…” a rally leader stated in a speech.  

Emphasizing the no-interaction policy, the encampment protester explained to New U  the consequences of a potential physical altercation between a protester and counter-protester. 

“We have had members that had discussions with counter-protesters, and those went well. They didn’t get violent, no voices were yelled or anything,” the protester said. “But, we do believe that if a physical interaction were to happen, it would give the cops a green light to attack us and take us down.” 

According to Tamy Cohen — the Executive Director of Hillel Orange County — the counter-protesters were not affiliated with UCI or Hillel. Student organizers of the Holocaust Remembrance Walk hoped that community participants would not engage in counterprotest, but rather honor the memory of Holocaust victims. 

In a message to Jewish students on their Instagram, Hillel at UCI expressed support to those who “need [their] story amplified,” or “just need a listening ear.”  

“I know times are tough but we will get through this together,” the post states.  

Cohen told New U that Hillel’s goal is to create a Jewish community on campus by “listening to students, feeding them and taking care of them emotionally and mentally.”

“Our Israeli students on campus this year, they’re scared,” Cohen said. “[Oct. 7] affected them personally. It affected all of us personally because that’s their families. We all know people who were killed. The reality of what we want is we want peace.” 

In Egypt, negotiations between Hamas and Israel are ongoing. AP News reported that Hamas accepted a proposal for a ceasefire. Following Hamas’ acceptance, Israeli leaders moved forward with a military operation in the city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians live. The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of 100,000 people in Rafah for a limited military operation, according to PBS News Hour.

“I just think it’s unfair that they put out these evacuation orders when these people have nowhere to go and like anywhere they go is just as unsafe as the other place that they were in,” the encampment protester stated. “I think there’s something wrong with people for not standing up against this for not realizing that these people were already displaced from their own homes.”

Photo by Sarah Millington / Staff

Samer Saleh, a Palestinian UCI graduate student, played the banjo outside of the encampment in the evening. He told New U that he was playing a traditional Palestinian folk song with the lyrics translated into English below.

Returning to my homeland 

Returning to my homeland 

Returning to green pastures 

Returning to my homeland 

Saleh modified his instrument to play Arabic scales. Western instruments, like the modern banjo, typically feature 12-note scales while Arabic scales contain 24 notes. To perform the range of the folk song, Saleh glued toothpicks to the stringed instrument to add more frets. 

“The reason that I’m playing this music is because so much of our culture is being erased and it’s been co-opted unfortunately,” Saleh said. “You know, I’m here in the diaspora. I’m here because my family was evicted in 1948 from their home. There’s so much of that culture that I’ve lost, but I want to try and hold on to it as much as I can so that, even those of us who aren’t there, it can be maintained.”

Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Apprentice. She can be reached at paxtons@uci.edu

Emilie Takahashi is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at takahae1@uci.edu

Edited by Beatrice Lee and Annabelle Aguirre