‘We call ourselves a liberated zone’: Israel-Hamas war protests continue at GW University for 5th day

Demonstrators at GW dismantle barriers as Israel-Hamas war protests continue

Pro-Palestinian protestors removed barriers around an encampment at George Washington University on Monday as demonstrations continued for a fifth day, according to the D.C. university.

It carries on at a time when colleges around the U.S. are working to clear out encampments of pro-Palestinian student protesters with no end in sight to the war in Gaza.

Protesters next to the encampment at George Washington University’s University Yard “breached and dismantled” barriers used to secure the area early Monday, the university said.

The metal barriers were stacked in a pile in the center of University Yard, according to WTOP’s Linh Bui. She said “the entire Yard” was covered in tents — about 100 of them — on Monday morning. One protester told Bui: “We call ourselves a liberated zone.”

“Since the steel barriers came down … the protest is more united,” WTOP’s Dick Uliano reported from the scene Monday afternoon, noting that the barriers had previously separated the main protests from the encampment.

Uliano reported that the bronze statue of George Washington that marks the entrance of  University Yard had been draped with a Palestinian flag. At the granite base of the statue, the words “Genocidal Warmongering University” had been painted.

University officials issued a statement condemning the removal of the barriers.

Palestinian flag is seen above a stack of metal barrier
A Palestinian flag is seen above a stack of metal barriers piled at the center of George Washington University’s University Yard, after being dismantled by protesters, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (WTOP/Linh Bui)
Metal barriers stacked in a pile
Metal barriers stacked in a pile at the center of George Washington University’s University Yard, after being dismantled by pro-Palestinian protesters, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (WTOP/Linh Bui)
Students set up an encampment at George Washington University on Monday, April 29, 2024. (WTOP/Linh Bui)
APTOPIX Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
A Palestinian flag is reflected in a demonstrator’s mask as students protest the Israel-Hamas war at George Washington University in Washington, Sunday, April 28, 2024. Protests and encampments have sprung up on college and university campuses across the country to protest the war. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Palestinian flag is seen above a stack of metal barrier
Metal barriers stacked in a pile
APTOPIX Israel Palestinians Campus Protests

“This is an egregious violation of community trust and goes far beyond the boundaries of free expression and the right to protest. The university will use every avenue available to ensure those involved are held accountable for their actions,” read a statement issued by the university.

The university said a student “jumped over the barricade” to University Yard and was removed by officers with the George Washington Police Department, but “no arrest was made.”

It said the group of about 200 protesters at the encampment, include “professional organizers, activists, and university students” from across the D.C. area.

It reported that protest leaders asked demonstrators at the encampment to keep the area clean shortly after 3 a.m., about an hour after the group was heard repeating “we’re not leaving.”

Selina Al-Shihabi, a Georgetown University sophomore with Students for Justice for Palestine, an organization of pro-Palestinian students from D.C-area universities, who is among the encamped at GW University, told WTOP that not a lot of students are willing to put “a greater cause above themselves.”

“The cops had to just stand around and watch us, like enjoy our liberated zone, and live in liberation. … Morale is just so high today because of that,” Al-Shihabi said.

She said protesting students are willing to get suspended, “willing to risk their future careers for a cause so much greater than themselves, for people they may never meet” because they “know that it’s the right thing to do, and they are willing to stand up for humanity and stand up for justice.”

“There have been no incidents of violence,” according to George Washington University President Ellen Granberg in an update provided by the university Sunday night. Uliano echoed the sentiment on Monday afternoon, calling the protest “peaceful.”

Granberg said the university wanted all protesters to move demonstrations to nearby Anniversary Park, but protesters told WTOP over the weekend that they would not leave until all their demands are met.

What protesters are demanding

Moataz Salim, a GWU graduate student told WTOP that protesters have “a list of demands.”

He said they want the university to be open about “any sort of donor money that they receive, endowments, to disclose all their investments, to have full transparency. And then building on that, to divest from any investments they have in any sort of Israeli tech companies or Israeli weapons manufacturing or weapons technologies companies.”

Salim said protesters also want the university to “end any academic partnerships they have with Israeli institutions.”

He said protesters are also calling on the university “to do a lot more to protect their Black and brown students, especially those who are aligned with our movement and who are pro-Palestinian, like myself.”

“We’re staying until the demands are met. Otherwise they’re gonna have to drag us out of here,” Salim said.

The demands were also listed in an Instagram post by organizers.

WTOP’s Linh Bui and Dick Uliano contributed to this report from the campus of George Washington University.

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Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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