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Kelowna encampment calls on UBC to divest from ‘Palestinian genocide’

A Pro-Palestine encampment was set up at the UBC Okanagan campus on May 13

The Kelowna pro-Palestinian movement has officially erected an encampment on the UBC Okanagan Campus and the youth occupying the space say they are prepared to stay as long as it takes to have their demands met.

The students and community members that are part of the group called People’s University for Gaza at UBCO are joining groups from across B.C., Canada and the U.S. in a stand of solidarity with Palestine.

Those at the UBCO encampment have requested to maintain anonymity for fear of repercussions from the public and law enforcement.

READ MORE: Pro-Palestine encampment sets up on UBC Okanagan campus

Approximately 15 people were inside the encampment on May 13, at noon, after setting up in the courtyard at 5 a.m.

A representative from the People’s University for Gaza at UBCO group spoke with Capital News under the condition that their identity remains anonymous. She said that the group is calling on the University of British Columbia to meet five key demands including the official divestment from all companies complicit in the Israeli, “oppression and genocide of Palestinians.”

The group is also calling on UBC to participate in the global academic boycott of Israeli Universities, to condemn the genocide in Gaza, to keep police off the campus and to reaffirm Palestinian’s right to resist and their right to return.

The group of protesters is made up of youth who are both undergrad and grad students and members of the community from diverse backgrounds, including people of Jewish and Palestinian descent.

In response to a request for an interview, UBC Okanagan Campus Security issued a statement saying that the university “values freedom of expression and respects peaceful protest.”

Campus Security also said that the university recognizes that “Israel and Palestine evoke complex emotions,” and recognizes the “concerns of many in our community.”

The university said it is currently monitoring the encampment and requesting that everyone remain safe and respectful.

Professors at UBC are also standing in support of those occupying the encampment.

A group called UBC Professors for Palestine released a public letter to President Benoit-Antoine Bacon on May 10, in response to a Campus Broadcast.

“The University of British Columbia holds capital investments in companies that are complicit in Israel’s military campaign and occupation of Palestine,” said UBC Professors for Palestine.

They said that UBC invests in companies – including weapons manufacturers, military contractors and aerospace companies – that are directly profiting from the ongoing genocide of Palestinians.

“UBC is investing in companies that are profiting from war crimes, decades of illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing.”

The professors say they support and wish to amplify the voices of the student-run encampments across the country.

An organization called Faculty for Palestine UBCO, say they stand in solidarity with the student encampment on the campus and echo the students’ calls for UBC to divest in corporations that support or profit from Israel’s the military occupation of Palestinian territories.

Sana Shahram, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor and co-director of the Equity Science Lab at UBCO, said that she is not at all surprised by the action and stand of solidarity taken by the youth on Kelowna’s campus.

Shahram said many of the students have been consistent in their requests for action from faculty and leadership from the university, even been before the “atrocious attack by Hamas on Israelis on October 7.”

While the calls for action regarding the Occupied Territories of Palestine are certainly not new, “they have intensified and escalated given the scale of this unfolding humanitarian crisis,” said Shahram.

READ MORE: Trio of B.C. camps join growing wave of pro-Palestine university protests

She added the students’ requests for transparency of how public funds are invested, and their related demands for divestment, seem “exceedingly reasonable.”

In addition to being an assistant professor with the Faculty of Health and Social Development, School of Nursing, Shahram is also a co-director of the Equity Science Lab alongside Katrina Plamondon, PhD.

With support from other faculty, Plamondon and Shahram have created a ‘roadmap’ for students, outlining the different roles and responsibilities across the university that should be considered in responding to global crises, like the conflict in Gaza.

Other faculty, including UBC Climate Justice professor and author of Doppelganger, Naomi Klein, have also been supporting students in navigating this global crisis through the lens of their own expertise, said Shahram.

Shahram said the faculty and students at UBC “have learning to do on how best to navigate and respond to global crises that are, and will continue to, land on our campus community.”

“We should be leaning into our best evidence and processes to do this, alongside our students who want to build a better and more fair world”.

People at the UBCO encampment said that members of the public are invited to follow the group on Instagram @peoplesuniversityubco to learn more and get involved. They said they are thankful to those who have delivered food, and supplies and stopped by to give words of support.

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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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