Senna Omar / The Highlander

76 years after the first Nakba, on May 15, 2024 ,in a display of collective resistance, alumni, workers, and students from across the University of California (UC) system gathered at the UC Merced pro-Palestine encampment to “call attention [to] the Regents and demand they disclose and divest” from Israel and weapons manufacturing. During the three-day UC Regents meeting, from May 14 to May 16, 2024, the powerful voices of protesters echoed across UC Merced’s ‘Little Lake’ separating protesters from the UC Board of Regents meeting.

Their chants traveled across the water, infiltrating the building where the Regents meeting was held, forcing the Regents inside to hear their calls to “Free Palestine” and end the “UC funding of genocide.” As protests were happening in the encampments, people assembled outside the doors of the Regents meeting, demanding to be let in and have their voices heard. For more information regarding the Regents meeting, read “A show of unity: collective student action at Regents meeting,” by Brenda Jovel.

According to Associated Students of UC Merced’s UC Student Association (UCSA) Chair Ari Huffman, on the second day of the Regents meeting, protestors at the encampment hosted “various programs to build community and share space at UC Merced.” In remembrance of the first Nakba, the event featured speakers from all across the UC system, as well as musical performances and dances; protesters gathered to “honor all [their] martyrs” and celebrate Palestinian culture.

To honor the Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces, members of the encampment put up a memorial with the names of the first 6,000 “Palestinian martyrs who have been killed since Oct. 7.”

Huffman emphasized the “UC solidarity” present at the encampment throughout the Regents meeting. She highlighted that “this is not just a UC Merced issue, UC Riverside issue, a UC Berkeley issue; it’s a system-wide issue. The [UC] Regents are the people that we need to target and who we need to put pressure on, and they are here today. Every [UC] campus is represented here today … The support from our other sister campuses means so much to us, and we want to continue to build this bridge and tell the Regents to disclose and divest.”

Since its founding in January 2024, UC Merced’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has organized numerous walkouts, programs, teach-ins and, most recently, its encampment, which began on May 12, 2024. Huffman declared that UC Merced’s SJP will not end their encampment until all “our demands are met and until divestment is met.”

Speakers throughout the day emphasized their support for Palestine and their disappointment in the UC for their, as one speaker put it, “connection to the Zionist entity and profit off this genocide.”

Of many speakers during the Nakba remembrance program, was UC Merced alumni and organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Jesus. Jesus began his organizing efforts for Palestine because he felt a connection to the Palestinian struggle through his identity. He expressed that “as an undocumented student, I understood the deeper connections of the state and my own people’s repression … This movement for the liberation of Palestine is a movement that unifies all of us people in the diaspora here in the United States, because in one way or another, we are all interconnected, and we all have a common enemy, which is US imperialism.”

In between speeches from members of the UC community, as protesters saw Regents exit the meeting, they began chanting and demanding to be heard and recognized by the Regents. Protestors engaged in chants such as “UC Regents, you can’t hide, you are funding genocide,” and “Michael Drake, you’re a liar, we demand a ceasefire,” attempting to garner the attention of the Regents and gain recognition for their demands.

A speaker at the encampment and a member of the UC Berkeley community, Hesham, emphasized the power of the UC system as the “largest employer and educator in California,” and echoed his fellow speakers and organizers’ calls for divestment and justice in Palestine. “I think divestment is long overdue. We’ve done it for apartheid South Africa; there is no reason why we shouldn’t do it for the apartheid, Zionist, racist, white supremacist State of Israel,” expressed Hesham.

Nadya, a UC Santa Cruz alumni and organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, cited the “repression and obtuse Zionism with no support from our administration on campus” as what spurred her into action. Emphasizing the hypocrisy of the UC, Nadya remarked, “The UC says that it’s an educational bastion, but we know that they prioritize money over education. That’s consistent with what they’ve shown us … We know that however long it takes to recognize this as a genocide on the international stage … that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be very interested to talk to these people who look genocide in the face and continue to fund it without a blink of an eye.”

After two long days of chanting and lobbying Regents to come and converse with students at the encampment, on Thursday, May 16, 2024, the final day of the Regents meeting, Student Regents Josie Beharry and Merhawi Tesfi, led Regent Josie M. Hernandez, Regent Gregory Sarris and Regent Keith Ellis to the encampment during their 20-minute lunch break. Although this meeting was short, Regent Hernandez promised protesters that he would return following the conclusion of the Regent meeting.

After the Regents left, members of the encampment began preparing to host the Regents at their encampment and brainstorming questions to ask them upon their return.

Following the conclusion of the UC Regent meeting, Student Regent Beharry, Student Regent Tesfi, Regent Hernandez, Regent Joel Raznick and Regent Ellis returned to the encampment to, according to Regent Ellis, “answer students’ questions” and discuss “information we shared with them discussed during the Investments Committee meeting on Tuesday.”

All of the Regents present echoed the same sentiment that they are only one Regent and cannot speak for the Board of Regents as a whole, only for themselves as individual Regents. When asked about divestment, students received similar responses from all the Regents present: “Divestment is complicated … and not as simple as pulling money out.”

None of the Regents could commit to divestment; however, Regent Hernadez committed to lobbying the Regents regarding student concerns. Throughout the question-and-answer session, the Regents emphasized that they are not an “all-powerful entity.” UC Merced’s SJP President Janine Barakat responded, “It is disheartening for the students to hear you all diminishing the power and advocacy that you hold as Regents.”

Student Regent Beharry stated, “We are allies to you always,” and emphasized that because of the work that the students have been doing across UC campuses, the UC disclosed their investment portfolio on day one of the UC Regent meeting.

The displays of collective actions across not only UC campuses, but also universities across the globe, have led some protesters to call this a “student Intifada,” or ‘uprising’ demonstrating the strength of the collective action in student organizing efforts, similar to protests against “South African [apartheid]” and the “Vietnam [war].”. Nadya proclaimed that “no matter where [the Regents] go, UC students, faculty, staff and people of conscience will find them and will let them know that it is their responsibility to divest student funds from the genocidal project of Israel against the Palestinian people.”

As Regents walked away from the encampment, protesters began repeatedly chanting, “Free, free Palestine,” “We want justice, you say how, end the attacks on students now” and “Viva, viva Palestina.”

Graduate student at UC Los Angeles (UCLA), Dylan Kupsh, who was pepper sprayed in the eyes by Zionists during his time at the UCLA Palestine solidarity encampment, expressed his disappointment in the responses Regents gave to students, as well as the lack of accountability for Chancellors across the UC system for authorizing police force on their own students.

Kupsh shared that his “friends are still limping because they were shot by rubber bullets, and a lot of people were in the hospital getting stitches. I think there’s not an acknowledgment of the real pain and suffering that we went through because of the regent’s actions and the Chancellor’s actions against us.”

Directing the conversation towards the Regents’ emphasis on students meeting with their Chancellors regarding divestment, Kupsh stated, “we were [at the UCLA encampment] for an entire week. The Chancellor, [Gene Block], never came, and he knew where we were. He admitted to watching us getting brutalized by Zionists from the building right next to us … we’re willing to have this conversation about divestment and [are] trying to achieve these demands. It’s really frustrating when the Regents come here and say, ‘we’re willing to have this conversation,’ but in reality, they don’t come [to us].”

Dee Statum, a UC Irvine (UCI) student who spoke during public comment at the Regents meeting, echoed the dissatisfaction expressed by other in the encampment  in regards to the Regents’ response to the student protesters as well as their disappointment in the UCI Chancellor, who, on May 15, 2024, authorized the “demolishment of the [UCI] encampment.” Statum claimed that the actions of UCI Chancellor, Howard Gillman, and chancellors across the UC system were actions of “abuse” by “police enforcement” towards student protesters and shared that one of their friends, alongside one of their professors, were arrested during the raid on the UCI encampment.

Statum continued, emphasizing how the Regents “make [divestment] seem very complicated. I can understand the fact that you cannot divest immediately, but why can’t we do this step-by-step? Why can’t you just say, in the future, we will not be investing in A, B and C companies because they’re doing A, B and C … to say that there are no steps to divest from these companies is crazy to me … there’s no reason why they should be in contact with these companies.”