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35,000 People Dead; Harvard Suspends Students Instead

On Friday, more than 200 people gathered in Harvard Yard to protest the decision to place students on involuntary leaves of absence over their participation in the pro-Palestine encampment.
On Friday, more than 200 people gathered in Harvard Yard to protest the decision to place students on involuntary leaves of absence over their participation in the pro-Palestine encampment. By Addison Y. Liu
By Rameen A. Javadian
Rameen A. Javadian is a second-year master’s student in Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School and an organizer with the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition.

Today in Gaza, more than 110,000 people have fled Rafah as Israel launched a ground invasion of the city where it has cornered 1.4 million Palestinians. For protesting this genocide, more than 20 Harvard students, including myself, have been placed on involuntary leaves of absence. The impacts of involuntary leave are severe and immediate: We are currently facing the loss of housing, school funding, degrees, and visas.

This move comes on the heels of over 60 students being referred to their schools’ Administrative Boards for their perceived association with the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition’s encampment in the Yard. Both waves of repression were unprecedented in recent history for their severity and cruel arbitrariness. Some students placed on leave had never set foot in a tent. Others are international students who now face the prospect of deportation.

All were punished for protesting our University’s complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestine and genocide in Gaza.

The sanctions follow a pattern of stonewalling from interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76. On Wednesday, Garber agreed, through backchannels and faculty intermediaries, to meet with student liaisons from the HOOP coalition for the first time in the four months of his presidency.

Garber opened the meeting with a threat: If the encampment remained in Harvard Yard, involuntary leave letters would be sent out the next day. And while Garber said he would dread to bring in the police, the message was clear: It’s on the table. He made clear several times that the meeting was merely a conversation — not a path to negotiation.

In the “conversation,” we asked Garber for future meetings with University officials to negotiate on our demands. We made clear that decampment would not happen unless the University moved forward on our initial demands of disclosure, divestment and reinvestment, and dropped disciplinary charges against organizers — the reason we established our Liberated Zone in the first place. The meeting ended without Garber making any immediate commitments.

The next morning Garber reached out, again through backchannels, with a sorry excuse for an offer: take down the encampment immediately in exchange for informational meetings about the endowment. No amnesty for the disciplined students. No disclosure. No divestment. No reinvestment. Just talk.

As Garber unabashedly put it in a later email: “a conversation, not a negotiation.”

We find this a disingenuous attempt to fragment our collective power through discursive traps. We don’t need a meeting about how the endowment works. In fact, we have spent years researching the intricacies of Harvard’s investments and the technicalities of divestment. What we need is simple: a genuine effort to negotiate on our demands, as we had insisted on from the start.

The next day, HOOP liaisons offered Garber immediate decampment in exchange for a commitment to negotiate on a concrete set of demands. First, assess the prospects for full disclosure while establishing a public records request model. Second, phase out direct investments in companies invested in weapons manufacturing and military and surveillance technology or in the perpetuation of illegal Israeli settlements. Third, cease accepting donations from donors related to such companies, or who harass and bully students. And fourth, reinvest by creating a center for Palestine studies on campus.

This list was a compromise on our original demands of full disclosure, divestment and reinvestment, and dropping charges. It was a show of good faith and an effort to find a path forward.

Instead of engaging with our new asks, Garber stated unequivocally that he would “not consider” them in an email sent to us that same night. The next morning, he issued mass suspensions. Even a Crimson reporter was sent a notice of involuntary leave, and National Lawyers Guild-certified legal observers have been subject to Administrative Board referrals.

The same hour suspensions were handed down, Garber was meeting with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt, who has built his career off of smearing and harassing Palestinians and allies of Palestinian liberation. Afterward, Greenblatt gloated that the ADL “welcomes” Garber’s “decision not to negotiate with those in the encampment.”

Evidently, Harvard is willing to work with external actors, but not its own students.

Seven months into the latest genocidal assault on Gaza, as Israel’s ground invasion of Rafah threatens to open one of the bloodiest chapters yet, we have a moral obligation to continue advocating for both the martyred and the living. Every university in Gaza has been reduced to rubble. Students and professors have been brutally killed. Our University’s endowment has, in part, funded this catastrophe.

We have tried our very best, while recognizing that Palestinians deserve infinitely more, to protest this complicity. We organized rallies. We passed divestment resolutions. We attempted a referendum. Ultimately, we set up the encampment, a non-violent, multicultural space of dissent — something Harvard promises to be but is not.

We know what it would take to mutually end this encampment: meaningful engagement with our demands. Let us be clear — the only person standing in the way of the encampment coming down is Garber.

No disciplinary consequence will stand between us and our commitment to a liberated Palestine. We will not rest until Harvard discloses and divests from its investments in genocide. We sleep well knowing our solidarity runs deep and our commitment remains unwavering.

If Garber insists that we must do so while sleeping in tents, so be it.

Rameen A. Javadian is a second-year master’s student in Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School and an organizer with the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition.

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