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University of Waterloo students and community members set up Gaza encampment

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A group of University of Waterloo students and community members have established an encampment on campus to protest the war in Gaza.

The group set up fencing, chairs and tents outside the Graduate House Monday morning to rally for divestment by launching the so-called “Gaza House Encampment.”

Occupy University of Waterloo (Occupy UW), the student group behind the encampment, says they “follow in the footsteps of the three other active encampments at Ontario universities demanding divestment from Israel’s genocide on Gaza.”

Protestors say they don't plan on leaving until their demands are met.

"We’re going to stay here until our demands are met and they are very basic human rights demands. We want the university to disclose all of their investments,” said Nicholas Joseph, media liaison for the protestors.

The group claims the university invests with companies that have relations with Israel-affiliated weapons and arms manufacturers.

Occupy UW released a list of demands which include having the university declare support for an immediate ceasefire.

The university said students have the right to expression, but any violence or hate speech will not be tolerated.

“We will continue to work with those who have gathered and with the entire campus community to ensure that we can continue to support the right to assemble freely, and the right to come and study, learn and work in safety,” Rebecca Elming, director of media relations for the University of Waterloo said in an email.

As for divestment, the university said it will consult on and develop guidelines on institutional partnerships.

“Regarding the demands this group is making, the University has committed to considering the issues raised regarding investments at both the Finance & Investment committee and the Pension Investment committee of the Board of Governors,” Elming said in the email. “Both committees are already working to look again at reporting on investments and the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors that fund managers consider.”

‘Deeply disturbing’

Jewish campus organization Hillel Ontario calls the protest “deeply disturbing” for Jewish Canadians.

"What we're seeing now with signs of intifada and globalize the resistance, these are violent manifestations of real world conflicts that are being imposed on Jewish students on campuses in Ontario," said Jay Solomon, chief advancement officer with Hillel Ontario.

Solomon said the university should be taking more of a leadership role in ensuring Jewish students, and all students, can go to school free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

"I can tell you this school year alone, we are looking at a 4x increase over reports of anti-Semitism from just last year alone," Solomon said.

Student reaction

Some students on campus were a bit surprised to see the encampment on Monday.

"Interesting to see how they set up about around the school to stand for what they believe for. I respect that. But honestly, I’m not too involved to this. Personally, I don't encourage this activity at school, because I do think that school is somewhere where you study, not for protesting," said Nam Tren, a mechanical engineering student.

"I really wasn't expecting it to happen on our campus. I know I saw it in the U.S. happening,” said Dante Gallo, a second year environment and business student. “I didn't think it was going to migrate over here. I mean I guess to each their own, but it's different, not something that I’m used to. I know a lot of stuff's going on over there, and something has to be done. I don't know if this is what's going to affect it and change it.”

The university said an update will be provided at its Board of Governors meeting next month, meaning the encampment could be around well into June.

Encampments have also been established at universities in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, among others.

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