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Irvine, CA: 20 police departments dismantle UCI Palestine solidarity encampment

By David Pulido

Police attack pro-Palestine encampment at University of California, Irvine.  | Fight Back! News/staff

Irvine, CA – At least 20 police departments besieged the University of California, Irvine Gaza solidarity encampment on May 15, as student protesters marked the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba. Earlier that morning, protesters reclaimed UCI Physical Sciences Lecture Hall and renamed it in honor of Alex Odeh, a Palestinian American activist who was assassinated in Santa Ana, California in 1985 by three members of the Jewish Defense League.

Shortly after students draped banners on Alex Odeh Hall, 20 Orange County police departments swarmed the campus parking lots as UCI administration put out a call for “mutual aid.” Departments included UCI PD, Irvine PD, Santa Ana PD, Yorba Linda PD, Garden Grove PD, Huntington Beach PD, Newport Beach PD, Tustin PD, La Palma PD, Fountain Valley PD, Newport PD, Rancho Santa Margarita PD, Costa Mesa PD, Orange PD, Buena Park PD, Placentia PD, Brea PD, Laguna PD, California Highway Patrol and OC Sheriff's Department.

Police blocked surrounding streets and parking lots with their vehicles, citing parked cars en masse. Helicopters and drones hovered overhead. Officers formed huge lines and started kettling protesters, snatching up and arresting students and faculty as they advanced on the encampment. But even as officers marched forward, protesters never stopped chanting, never stopped making their demands, including for UCI to financially divest from Israel. With every police advance, protesters erected barriers using tents, chairs and signs, chanting “OCPD, KKK, IOF: they’re all the same!”

Police eventually forced protesters towards Aldrich Park, dismantling the Gaza Solidarity Encampment as they passed. At least one student was brutally arrested, with multiple officers pinning them to the concrete, one officer with his knee directly on their neck. According to UCI Divest, at least 50 people were arrested over the course of the day. Around 8 p.m., officers issued a dispersal order and threatened to use “less-lethal” force on those remaining in the park, including rubber bullets.

The heavy police response this Wednesday is consistent with UCI’s Chancellor Howard Gillman’s approach to the student movement. On the first day of the encampment, he summoned six police departments, denying students access to food, water and public bathrooms before public pressure forced him to retreat. But on May 8, administration suspended several students, including three from the encampment negotiating team. On May 14, during a UC board of regents meeting, UCI disclosed it had $32 billion in assets tied to Israel. At that same meeting, a spokesperson showed no interest in divestment whatsoever.

Student activists were defiant, promising that protests will continue until UCI severs all its financial ties to Israel. Their chants echoed across the nighttime park, “From the river to the sea! Palestine will be free!”

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