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Updated: October 19, 2023, at 12:00 p.m.
Hundreds of Harvard students and affiliates marched to Harvard Business School and staged a “die-in” Wednesday afternoon to demand an end to violence in Gaza and express solidarity with Palestine following the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital blast.
Demonstrators chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “Barry, Barry you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide,” as they marched from outside University President Claudine Gay’s office in Massachusetts Hall to Klarman Hall at HBS, where former President Barack Obama was invited to speak at a summit Wednesday afternoon. Obama did not come to Harvard or speak at the event due to Covid-like symptoms Wednesday morning.
The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Graduate Students 4 Palestine organized the protest and die-in — where demonstrators lay on the ground, chanting and holding up signs — in response to the Tuesday strike of the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in central Gaza, which killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, according to Palestinian health officials.
While Hamas officials blamed Israel for the blast, the Israeli Defense Forces have denied involvement and attributed the explosion to a “failed rocket launch” by the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
U.S. intelligence reports Wednesday and Thursday confirmed that Israel was not responsible for the attack, with intercepted communications showing that the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad had fired the rocket that caused the blast, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden affirmed that his intelligence showed Israel did not commit the attack.
The hospital bombing occurred more than a week after the Oct. 7 invasion of Israel by the militant group Hamas that left more than 1,400 Israelis dead, according to Israeli authorities. Israel declared war on Hamas and has retaliated with airstrikes and put the region of Gaza under siege. According to Palestinian health officials, more than 3,000 Gazans have been killed in the counteroffensive.
A spokesperson for the PSC wrote that the group believes Obama is “deeply implicated” in the “ongoing genocide” of Palestinians by approving “billions of dollars” in military aid to Israel.
“We invoked the names of American presidents in our speeches because these politicians have been instrumental in upholding the Israeli military occupation of Palestine, through arms and military aid, impunity under international law, and the enabling of the apartheid system,” they wrote.
Obama’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an emailed announcement for the protest, the PSC called on Harvard students and affiliates to end “institutional complicity” with deaths in Gaza.
“As students of Harvard University — a university that invests in and whitewashes Israeli apartheid through financial holdings tied to illegal settlements — we have an obligation to speak up against the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” the PSC’s email stated.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.
The protest saw remarks from multiple speakers, including organizers from the PSC and the newly formed African and African American Resistance Organization.
AFRO co-founder Prince A. Williams ’25 said at the rally that he and the other protesters gathered because they “love life.”
“We love life, therefore, we love liberation,” said Williams, a Crimson Editorial editor. “We love life, therefore, we oppose occupation.”
“It’s what formulates our position against the apartheid regime,” Williams added. “We know the root violence in Palestine and Israel is a fascist, genocidal government.”
Williams drew parallels between the struggles of Palestinians and Black people in the U.S.
“As AFRO understands, the apartheid regime that was here is identical to the apartheid regime in Israel, rooted in the same logic of settler colonialism,” Williams said. “It’s right here. It’s alive and well. It’s on the names of our buildings, on the names of our streets.”
During the die-in, a man began to film demonstrator’s faces. Within minutes, he was escorted out by protest organizers, who blocked his camera with their keffiyehs — traditional scarves worn by Palestinians that have come to symbolize Palestinian nationalism. Demonstrators yelled “shame” at the disruptor as he left.
Towards the end of the protest, a man held up an Israeli flag as others stood alongside him.
HBS student Raphael C.S. Maarek, who held up the flag, said he and other Israeli students have faced “hate speech” in recent days and called for students to “learn with each other.”
“We’re not here to do politics. We’re here to learn from different perspectives — to meet people from the Gulf, from Iran, from any other type of Muslim country,” Maarek said. “We’re not full of hatred. We’re not full of revendications. We’re here to learn with each other, but it’s just not the right setting right now.”
A spokesperson for the PSC wrote after the rally that they “regret” the presence of counter-protesters at the protest and die-in.
“At a time of heightened campus tensions, we hope to refocus everyone’s attention on the humanitarian emergency happening in Gaza right now,” they said.
Correction: October 19, 2023
A previous version of this article misattributed a quote (“As AFRO understands...) to AFRO co-founder Kojo Acheampong '26. In fact, this statement was also made by Williams.
Correction: October 23, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Israel had declared war on Gaza. In fact, Israel declared war on Hamas.
Clarification: October 19, 2023
This article has been updated to clarify that it was Hamas officials who blamed Israel for the attack.
—Staff writer Julian J. Giordano contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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