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The Freedom School for Palestine and other pro-Palestinian associations around Philadelphia hosted a rally at College Green on May 5. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

This story is developing and will continue to be updated. Read all of our coverage of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment and protesters’ demands here.

Interim Penn President Larry Jameson said the Gaza Solidarity Encampment is making Penn's campus "less safe," suggesting organizers are more interested in "confrontation" and escalation than negotiating an end to their 12-day-long demonstration.

In a message to the University community around 7 a.m. Monday morning — Penn's first campus-wide email in over a week — Jameson reiterated his demand for the encampment to disband but said Penn was taking a "measured" approach to avoid a more aggressive response that would cause "further disruption." Jameson confirmed that the University is working with City officials and law enforcement, who have recommended that Penn work to de-escalate rather than inflame tensions given the University's open campus in Philadelphia.

"However, we are concerned that many of the protestors occupying the encampment on College Green are seeking such a confrontation," Jameson wrote in the message, which came on the first day of finals. "We have heard reports of circulating documents with instructions for escalating a protest, including through building occupations and violence."

In a statement released on Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine's Instagram on Monday morning, encampment members wrote they were disappointed by Jameson's efforts to "publicly misconstrue and disparage" their efforts. They wrote that they will not negotiate under the threat of arrest, dismantling of the encampment, or organizer expulsion, stating that the University's intimidation undermines what they want to be a "strong foundation of collaboration and trust" between encampment members and administrators. 

"[W]e are disheartened that this morning's communication draws focus from our demands for the University to disclose its holdings in warmongering institutions, divest from Israeli apartheid, and defend the rights of student protesters," the Gaza Solidarity Encampment statement read.  

Jameson declined to explicitly describe the demonstration as illegal — a description used by other college presidents in recent days prior to taking action against tents taking over common spaces on their own campuses. Still, while reiterating Penn's interest in continuing negotiations, Jameson said the encampment was violating policies, disrupting campus operations, and causing fear among Jewish students and other community members.

"Every day the encampment exists, the campus is less safe," Jameson said. "Some have aimed to characterize this as a peaceful protest. It is not."

Citing instances of vandalism, harassment, and threatening speech at the demonstration, Jameson pledged to maintain additional security presence near College Green and adjust the University's response "as conditions warrant." He wrote that Penn would be seeking stronger disciplinary action, which may stop some student protesters from graduating. 

"The roles, responsibilities, and activities of Penn faculty and staff members in the encampment are also under review," Jameson wrote.

In a statement released on Twitter, Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine also condemned Jameson's email, describing it as "a textbook example" of how University administrations nationwide are attempting to delegitimize campus protests. The group criticized Jameson for failing to acknowledge that events in Gaza are a "genocide that no one in power has stopped," blaming encampment members instead of counterprotesters for threatening violence, and threatening to take action against pro-Palestinian students and faculty.

"Protests work by challenging what is seen as safe, reasonable, normal, and just," the PFPJ statement read.

PFPJ also sent a response letter to Jameson, which further expressed "distress and disappointment" at his letter. In their letter — which was obtained by the DP — PFJP describes Jameson's message as "an unnecessary escalation of already fraught tensions on campus," despite its language around de-escalation.

"The hostile tone, worsened by the passive voice used in your letter, paints the encampment as one consisting of unreasonable participants, which is just wrong," the letter reads. PFJP also wrote that they have "little faith and confidence" in Jameson's leadership as a result of his decision to review the roles of pro-Palestinian faculty and staff. 

Jameson made note of a number of instances of "unacceptable" conduct — including vandalism of the Ben Franklin statue and the Split Button, as well as attempts by protesters to provoke Penn police officers. He said Penn's Division of Public Safety also opened an investigation into videos circulating on social media which showed encampment participants confronting a Jewish student and shining bright lights in his face. He also cited protesters' experiences being "spit on, harassed, and threatened."  

Protesters have been wearing masks and unwilling to show their PennCards, making it challenging for the University to distinguish between Penn community members and outsiders, Jameson added.

In their statement, the encampment members condemned Jameson's implication that the encampment poses a threat to Penn community members. They described themselves as a "non-violent gathering of students and community members," citing that their family meals, art, and educational programming have been disrupted by "aggressive counter protestors." 

They explained that encampment members chose to wear masks and decline to show IDs as a way to protect themselves from counterprotesters as well as doxxing, harassment, and the spread of communicable diseases.

Most recently on Sunday morning, a group of counterprotesters yelled at encampment members, banged pots and pans, and shouted phrases such as "F**k Palestine," "Wake up terrorists," and "Go home," according to a source familiar with the matter and a video circulating on social media. One source said that they were particularly disturbed by a call for a “repeat of UCLA“ — where counterprotesters physically attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California at Los Angeles.

At least two individuals have been detained on College Green over the course of the encampment, one of whom wore a knife holster during a pro-Palestinian seder on April 28, and another who sprayed an odorous substance on tents and other belongings on May 1. 

"By clearly prioritizing the safety of certain Penn students over others, you have deepened our community divide more than our movement ever could," the PAO statement read.

The PFJP letter also criticized Jameson for failing to address harassment directed at the encampment, describing his email as a "disingenuous mis-representation of the safety concerns you listed."

Jameson also wrote that "the terrorism and hostage-taking by Hamas must be addressed, and so too, the urgent and critical humanitarian crisis and loss of life in Gaza," adding that "passion for a cause does not entitle anyone to act beyond the rules that govern and protect us."

The PFJP letter further criticized Jameson for "collaps[ing] Jewish students into a monolith," describing his allegation that the encampment causes fear "especially among our Jewish students" as a "tired anti-Semitic trope." They allege Jameson has ignored the presence of anti-Zionist Jewish students in the encampment, the support the encampment received from Jewish community organizations, and a Passover Seder that was held by anti-Zionist encampment members last week.

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment statement ended with a call for Jameson to stop "minimiz[ing] and dismiss[ing]" why organizers set up the camp, citing that Israel ordered Palestinians to evacuate the city of Rafah in Gaza hours before he sent the message, and killed at least 22 Palestinians on Sunday night.

"The families of your students and community members families are being massacred, and still, you refuse to engage in good faith negotiation to find a path forward together," the statement read. "We look forward to meeting with you once you commit to engaging in good faith negotiations absent of threat or intimidation."