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Around 50 people were present for an emotional gathering organized by Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine at the LOVE Statue on May 10. Credit: Bamelak Duki

Around 50 people, many of whom were Penn faculty and student organizers of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, were present for an emotional hourlong gathering organized by Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine at the LOVE Statue beginning at 3 p.m. 

Multiple Penn professors recounted their experience with this morning's police sweep of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the gathering, with several speakers and audience members breaking into tears. Penn Police officers, with support from the Philadelphia Police Department, disbanded the encampment on its 16th day this morning and arrested 33 protesters, nine of whom were Penn students.

Assistant professor of philosophy and PFJP member Sukaina Hirji introduced the event as an open mic to “bear witness,” “acknowledge,” and “process” the duration of the encampment and the arrests from earlier in the day.

“I thought I was emotionally prepared. But it turns out, nothing really prepares you for seeing hundreds of cops in riot gear show up to arrest your students and your colleagues,” Hirji said. “I'm honestly still pretty shaken. I'm also very f**king angry and honestly just really sad. But I wanted to take a minute to not dwell in those feelings and instead just dwell a little in the power of what has been.”

All 33 people arrested were given code violation notices, not criminal charges, according to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The arrested protesters were "released quickly throughout the morning" after being detained," a University spokesperson said.

The arrests came after Penn “requested general assistance” from the City of Philadelphia on May 1, according to a press release from 2016 Fels Institute of Government graduate and Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, Chief Public Safety Director Adam Geer, and City Solicitor Renee Garcia. 

Penn Police spent three days this week receiving Civil Disorder Training from Philadelphia Police as they prepared for an event where the University did not reach an agreement with protesters, officials said.

The city officials wrote that they were “thankful” that the police’s action in clearing the encampment “occurred without violence.”

“From [May 1] 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,” the statement wrote. “We were also clear that we expected Penn to explore every option to resolve this matter peacefully.”

Penn professors passionately expressed their support for the encampment, highlighting how much they have learned from the “discipline” and “courage” of student organizers. 

English professor and PFJP member Chi-Ming Yang recounted her experience from the morning, when she joined faculty members in forming a barricade to attempt to block police vans holding arrested student organizers.

“I had made a pledge with a dear colleague of mine, that if they dared to touch any of our students, we would be there with them,” Yang said. “We knew our students were in those vans. We just wanted to be in there with you guys.”

Huda Fakhreddine, an associate professor of Arabic literature and member of PFJP, described an experience from her youth in which Israeli armed forces invaded her village in Lebanon. 

“I've lived in that moment since September, and to see my colleagues and my students brutalized today was just as harrowing,” Fakhreddine said.

Speakers emphasized that their plans to push Penn towards meeting the demands of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment would not end with the dismantling of the physical demonstration.

The encampment organizers' main demands are for the University to disclose its investments, divest from companies with ties to Israel, and defend pro-Palestinian students. The organizers have called for “full amnesty for all Penn and Philadelphia community members,” which would include lifting disciplinary measures against Penn student protesters.

“This is the dawn of something much greater, much larger, and the Penn administration — shame on them for thinking that just because they suspend six students, just because they give a disciplinary action to 12 students, just because they disband and use police brutality against their own students and members of their community — think that they can stop us. Because they won’t,” a Penn student and encampment organizer said.

In a letter to the editor published by The Daily Pennsylvanian, members of Penn Faculty Against Antisemitism thanked University and city officials for clearing the encampment "to return our campus to a safe place for all students and faculty."

"Nobody wants our students to be harmed, and we do not wish to penalize anyone who is practicing their right to free expression," PAFA members wrote. "However, we are hopeful that the University will engage in a thorough and fair disciplinary process to ensure that students and faculty who are not adhering to the code of conduct face appropriate consequences for inciting hate and creating a threatening campus environment."