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Protest encampment disbanded at University of Pennsylvania

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(The Center Square) – Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania disbanded a pro-Palestinian encampment on Friday, less than 24 hours after Gov. Josh Shapiro again demanded action.

The demonstrators first gathered on the campus’s College Green on April 25 in opposition to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led assault that left 1,200 of its civilians dead.

The encampment is just one of several at universities across the country where protestors decry Israel’s bombing of the region that has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, injured more than 78,000 and displaced 1.7 million, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker said the city’s police department assisted Penn law enforcement with clearing the scene early Friday and arresting 33 protestors for defiant trespass. This, after a May 1 request from the university to intervene was rebuffed.

“From that day on, we were clear throughout that process that Philadelphia Police would provide backup assistance if arrests were made, or if the situation became dangerous or violent,” Parker said. “We were also clear that we expected Penn to explore every option to resolve this matter peacefully.”

University leadership said they’d done just that to no avail. According to a statement released Friday, the demonstrators refused to leave, show identification and stop the escalation of loud, threatening or discriminatory behavior.

According to multiple reports, demonstrators have been accused of vandalizing the campus and intimidating students, though leadership itself never acknowledged any specific incidents in its statement.

In an opinion article published by the university newspaper on May 3, an anonymous student defended encampments across the country and said pro-Israel demonstrators often stage incidents that appear antisemitic.

Manuel Bonder, the governor’s spokesman, said via email Friday the university “made the right decision” after the situation had reached “an untenable point.”

“As Governor Shapiro has made clear multiple times, all Pennsylvanians have a right to peacefully protest and make their voices heard,” Bonder said. “The governor has also made clear that universities have a legal responsibility to keep their students safe and free from discrimination.”

Penn officials said that despite several lengthy meetings with encampment leaders, the university could not meet any of their demands – including offering amnesty to participating students and faculty and divesting from companies with Israeli ties.

The latter of which, leaders said, the university remains “unequivocally opposed to” and bound by state law.

“There are times when our abiding commitment to open expression requires balancing free speech with our responsibility to safety, security, and continuing the operations of the university,” the statement concluded. “This is one of those times and why we have acted. Open expression and peaceful protest are welcome on our campus, but vandalism, trespassing, disruption, and threatening language and actions are not.”