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Encampment Protesters Briefly Raise 3 Palestinian Flags Over Harvard Yard

Three Palestinian flags were raised above University Hall on Saturday on the fourth day of the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment before Harvard police officers removed it about one hour later.
Three Palestinian flags were raised above University Hall on Saturday on the fourth day of the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment before Harvard police officers removed it about one hour later. By Elyse C. Goncalves
By Madeleine A. Hung and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated Saturday, April 27, at 9:46 p.m.

Pro-Palestine student protesters at the Harvard Yard encampment flew three Palestinian flags from University Hall on Saturday evening.

A group of three protesters hoisted the flags over the John Harvard statue in the Yard, where the University sometimes flies the American flag or flags of the countries of visiting foreign dignitaries. As of 6:34 p.m., Harvard University Police officers were calling Harvard Yard Operations to remove the flag.

As the staff removed the flags, protesters yelled “Shame!” and chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

As the campus services Harvard staff member walked away with the Palestinian flags and two HUPD police officers, a student protester on the steps of University Hall attempted to grab the flags from the facilities staffer. Surrounding protesters immediately urged him to stop.

The protester declined to comment.

In a statement Saturday evening, Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote that raising the flags was “a violation of University policy and the individuals involved will be subject to disciplinary action.”

After the facilities staffer removed the flags, protesters willing to have their Harvard University IDs photographed and numbers collected by administrators gathered inside the encampment. Other protesters also gathered outside of the encampment ropes in solidarity.

“Harvard, Harvard take my ID. You can’t really scare me,” the protesters chanted.

Following the flags being raised and then removed, protesters held a vigil for Palestinian killed in the war, during which dozens of protesters sat silently in a semicircle around the John Harvard statue.

At 9 p.m., immediately following the vigil, a group of seven administrators — including Dean of Students Thomas Dunne, Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01, and Dean of Student Services Michael Burke — arrived from University Hall and entered the encampment zone to check IDs.

Several administrators carried ID scanners. Administrators wrote down the ID numbers of students within the encampment and handed each a slip of paper warning of disciplinary action, including the possibility that graduating seniors could have their degrees withheld.

“Repeat violations of University and School policies will result in increasingly severe sanctions,” the slip stated, adding that “students with pending disciplinary matters may not be granted a degree.”

The warning of disciplinary action was the third issued by College administrators following emails from Dunne on Thursday and Saturday, suggesting that the College is moving closer to officially calling undergraduate protesters before the Harvard College Administrative Board.

The threat that degrees could be withheld comes just weeks before Harvard’s commencement ceremonies. Several of the protesters in the encampment are seniors expected to graduate in May.

Administrators have checked the IDs of protesters daily since Thursday.

Administrators checked, but did not note, the ID numbers of the students outside the encampment, including multiple Crimson reporters on the scene.

Within 15 minutes, administrators exited as protesters — who were chanting “Admin, admin, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “Every dollar Harvard supplies, a neighborhood in Gaza dies” with megaphones and drums — encircled and followed them out of the Yard.

After the departure of the administrations, protesters called a group meeting in the encampment.

The American flag was not flying at the time the Palestinian flags were raised because University procedures dictate that “the American flag is raised in front of University Hall each Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. and lowered at 4 p.m., for proper storage.”

The first flag was raised onto the center University Hall flag post at 6 p.m. Protesters initially attached the flag upside down, but it was quickly turned a few minutes later. At 6:18 p.m., protesters raised a second, smaller Palestinian flag on an adjacent flag post, and a third flag followed on the final post at 6:23 p.m.

The group around the encampment cheered and chanted, “Free, free Palestine” as each of the flags were raised. Led by an organizer on a megaphone, the group also chanted “What do we want, justice! When do we want it, now!” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” Several protesters also took photos.

No University administrators arrived on the scene during the half hour period when the flags were raised over Harvard Yard.

Around 6:40 p.m., organizers posted a photo of the first Palestinian flag flown from University Hall to the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine Instagram with the caption, “WE FLY FOR PALESTINE.”

“For well over 200 days, Harvard has ignored the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Until they agree to meet our demands to disclose and divest from Israeli apartheid and occupation, we will make Palestine unavoidable,” organizers wrote. “We will continue this liberated zone and fly the spirit of Palestine!”

During the vigil, one protester noted that Saturday night was the White House Correspondents Dinner and urged attendees to remember the names of journalists killed in Palestine before and after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Harvard Medical School instructor Lara Jirmanus wrote in a statement that it was “deeply saddening that anti-Palestinian racism is so pervasive that instead of talking about how to end our complicity in Israel’s genocide, we are worried that the mostly silent encampments are too loud.”

“The students camping in the Yard are engaged in one of the most profoundly educational events in their generation,” Jirmanus added. “They teach us how to hold power to account when our institutions and our democracy has failed to enact the will of the US and the global public: to ensure that Palestinians have the same access to life with dignity that all human beings deserve.”

Securitas officers walked by the John Harvard statue and noted the flag but did not stop nor address the protesters. Harvard University Police officers stationed in the Yard declined to comment on whether they would intervene.

HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay defended protesters’ rights in a Friday interview with The Crimson, saying “we are keeping our students safe and they are protesting peacefully and it’s their right and we are going to support that.”

It is not the first time an activist group has used the flagpole to promote their cause. In February 2023, protesters with Our Harvard Can Do Better — an anti-rape culture advocacy group — raised a “Shame on Harvard” banner on two University Hall flagpoles. It is unclear whether the protesters will face disciplinary action for raising the banners.

On Wednesday, when the encampment began, protesters at the encampment draped a keffiyeh and a Palestinian flag over the John Harvard statue.

Friday morning,Dunne used a pole to take down the keffiyeh after asking students to also remove the flag, and protesters asked Dunne to take the keffiyeh down himself. Shortly after Dunne’s departure, protesters replaced the keffiyeh on the statue, where it remains as of Saturday evening.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at madeleine.hung@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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