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Updated: October 15, 2023, at 9:58 p.m.
More than 1,000 demonstrators rallied in Harvard Yard in support of Gaza Saturday ahead of an expected ground invasion by Israel, condemning the University for a lack of support of Palestinian students and complicity in what they described as “genocide.”
Jointly organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Graduate Students 4 Palestine, the rally was initially set for Friday evening but was postponed due to safety concerns, according to an Instagram post by GS4P.
The rally came one week after surprise attacks by Hamas on Israel that killed 1,300 Israelis and saw 150 taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities. In the following days, Israel declared war on Hamas and launched counter-offensives that have left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead as of Saturday afternoon, according to Gazan health authorities.
A ground invasion of Gaza by Israel’s military is expected in the coming days, with Israeli authorities directing more than one million Palestinians to evacuate the northern region of the territory within 24 hours — an order that U.N. Secretary-General spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric wrote risks “devastating humanitarian consequences.” Hamas has instructed Gazans not to comply with the evacuation order.
At the rally, a spokesperson for the PSC who did not identify himself demanded Harvard urge federal officials to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and disclose direct and indirect investments in companies “complicit in genocide and human rights abuses towards Palestinians.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.
A PSC spokesperson said in an interview before the rally that the protest was organized in response to the Friday evacuation order, which she called “obviously impossible.”
“I have yet to see widespread condemnation of this, and Palestinians and Palestine solidarity groups all over the world are joining together to warn of the impending genocide,” she said.
Another PSC spokesperson also called on University President Claudine Gay to explicitly condemn doxxing attacks against students supporting Palestine.
“We need to condemn and reject the anti-Palestinian racism, doxxing, and harassment Harvard students are facing,” he said.
Organizers offered masks to attendees due to safety concerns.
In a video message Thursday — her third statement since the attacks on Israel — Gay rejected calls to name and punish the students involved in a joint statement signed by the PSC and dozens of other student organizations last week that called the Israeli government “entirely responsible” for the violence. Gay stressed the University’s commitment to free expression.
“That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous,” she said. “We do not punish or sanction people for expressing such views, but that is a far cry from endorsing them.”
The student groups’ joint statement sparked national outrage — from federal lawmakers to Fortune 500 CEOs to some of the University’s own top scholars — and was denounced by more than 4,000 Harvard affiliates across two open letters.
In the week since it was published, students affiliated with groups that signed onto the statement have faced threats and doxxing attacks, with a box truck displaying students’ names and faces circling Harvard’s campus on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. At least 10 groups have retracted their support for the joint statement since its publication.
A spokesperson for PSC referenced the threats and doxxing attacks students have been facing and said the rally was “necessary” in an interview before the rally.
“The harm that Harvard students are facing is becoming the top story,” she said. “This rally is to bring attention back to where it belongs, which is to the millions of people living under occupation and the impending genocide of Palestinian people.”
Rabea Eghbariah, a human rights lawyer and fellow at the Harvard Divinity School’s Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative, condemned efforts to harass and intimidate students speaking up in support of Palestine in his remarks at the rally.
“Harvard students who dared to speak for Palestinian lives were persecuted across campus,” Eghbariah said. “We reject that when Palestinians speak up for their lives, they are inherently violent.”
“There will be no peaceful resolution without a just resolution,” he added. “We will not be gaslighted that stating this basic truth is grounds for our annihilation.”
An unidentified PSC speaker at the rally called for a rejection of “racist lies.”
“We reject the idea that ethnic cleansing is a form of self-defense. We reject the idea that our right to exist is up for debate,” she said. “We reject the idea that it’s somehow controversial to acknowledge that Israel is responsible.”
“We reject the idea that this genocide is not a genocide,” the speaker added.
Prince A. Williams ’25, a co-founder of the African and African American Resistance Organization, said in a speech during the rally that the organization stands with Palestinian liberation, “just as our ancestors of the Black Freedom Movement have done, time and time again.”
“The most evident parallel between the struggle of Black people and Palestinians is that we have a common rich tradition of resistance,” said Williams, a Crimson Editorial editor.
AFRO co-founder Kojo Acheampong ’26 said in a speech at the rally that the group is “in full support of the Palestine resistance against the settler colonial apartheid regime that is Israel.”
“Marginalized people, oppressed people, colonized people are always demanded to justify their means of liberation,” Acheampong said. “They’re not terrorists.”
Acheampong drew comparisons to abolitionist and anti-apartheid movements throughout history, telling demonstrators that “history is on our side.”
“When people fought in apartheid South Africa, a system akin to Gaza’s and the West Bank’s, the U.S. and the West vilified the people and labeled them as terrorists,” Acheampong said. “Today, we call them liberators.”
Acheampong and other speakers led chants to “free, free, Palestine,” “no justice, no peace,” and “no more funding Israel’s crimes.”
After the rally, a spokesperson for the PSC said not every speaker at the rally was a member of the organization, specifically referencing Acheampong.
“That specific member who spoke is not a member of PSC, and does not speak for PSC,” he said. “The PSC membership and leadership had not read the speeches prior to the rally or reviewed them.”
“We remain staunchly opposed against violence against civilians, and in no way endorse any message that condones, tacitly or explicitly, violence against civilians,” he added. “That’s a red line for the PSC, and it’s a fundamental part of our effort for a non-violent struggle for a free Palestine.”
In a statement to The Crimson sent after the rally, a spokesperson for PSC said the organization’s position against violence is the same.
“PSC’s own steadfast opposition to violence against civilians is clear and remains unchanged. The rally saw a line up of various independent speakers whose speeches were rooted in a genuine concern for the state of the millions experiencing ethnic cleansing in Gaza,” the spokesperson wrote.
Andres Vega, a Boston resident who attended the rally, said he and his family “wanted to come in solidarity,” adding that “way more people” should have attended because of the importance of the issue.
“It’s the only way that we could see in the moment that we could be supportive and present,” Vega said.
Rally attendee Brent Stevens said he attended the rally to “see things from all angles” and figure out “the complexity of the situation.”
Salih Erdal, who said he attended the rally along with members of his mosque to support and increase the visibility of the rally, described the turnout as “impressive.”
“It was a lot of people from different backgrounds,” he said. “People are uniting and supporting something that’s very human, so I was very glad to see that.”
In an interview after the rally, a PSC spokesperson said they were “extraordinarily happy” with the turnout.
“We’re extraordinarily happy that so many members of our community showed up at a time when the situation in Gaza is so pressing,” he said.
—Staff writer Julian J. Giordano contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Readers should note that pre-moderation has been turned on for online commenting on this article out of concerns for student safety.
—Cara J. Chang, President
—Brandon L. Kingdollar, Managing Editor
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