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Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Gaza Solidarity Encampment participants and their supporters continued their demonstration on Monday after further push back from Interim Penn President Larry Jameson, holding a rally with controversial professor and activist Marc Lamont Hill.

Over 250 protesters attended Monday's demonstration — one of the largest crowds to gather around the Ben Franklin statue in recent days, as organizers criticized Jameson's latest demands for student organizers to disband their encampment or face harsher discipline. Attendees at the pro-Palestinian rally also alleged additional instances of harassment from two different counterprotesters before and after Hill's remarks, following at least five reported instances of alleged harassment or threats from counterprotesters over the 12 days of the encampment on College Green. 

Monday's rally began around 7:30 p.m. and featured Hill, a City University of New York urban education professor whose appearance at the Palestine Writes Literature Festival at Penn generated national controversy in September 2023. 

Mirroring previous rallies that have taken place alongside the encampment, several demonstrators climbed on the Ben Franklin statue, placing atop it a keffiyeh and signs that read “Divest” and “Avenge Hind.” The second sign referenced the pro-Palestinian takeover of Hamilton Hall at Columbia, where protesters renamed the building in honor of a Palestinian child killed in Gaza after an attack initiated by Israel Defense Forces.

Keffiyehs and other signage have appeared and disappeared from the statue numerous times since the encampment began.

Five Philadelphia Police Department vans and four PPD cars were parked on the corner of 34th and Walnut streets throughout the demonstration. Before Hill arrived, a group of 20 protesters played music through a loudspeaker on the corner before approaching the protest carrying large Palestinian flags. Protesters proceeded to chant for about half an hour.

At approximately 8:20 p.m. — while rally participants were praying ahead of Hill's remarks — a counterprotester, who was not a Penn student, tried to enter the encampment, allegedly pushing rally participants in the process. In response, the crowd yelled phrases such as “don’t f**king push me” and “people are praying,” while physically blocking the counterprotester from entering the encampment until he backed up. 

Demonstrators moved closer together to keep counterprotesters out and continued their prayer, with a speaker reminding the crowd that engaging with counterprotesters is against encampment rules. Requests for comment were left with a University spokesperson and the Division of Public Safety.

After the incident, Hill, who received a Ph.D. in education from Penn in 2005, spoke about separating anti-Zionism from antisemitism.  

“Jew hate is pervasive. It has been throughout history wherever Jewish people have been,” Hill said. “The problem is, you cannot jump out of the burning buildings of Europe and land on the backs of Palestinians.” 

He noted universities’ commitment “to maintaining the status quo” — including during the Palestine Writes festival. Hill’s scheduled appearance generated controversy weeks before the festival, with Penn community members and national Jewish groups alike expressing concern about his previous rhetoric. Hill apologized in 2018 after his call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” was condemned by some as a call to destroy Israel.

“This University is committed to silencing the voices of the dissidents and resistance,” Hill said. “This University has blood on its hands.” 

Hill also criticized universities’ claims of commitment to free speech, calling their differing treatments of calls for divestments and sanctions “hypocrisy” and “disingenuous.” Additionally, he pushed back against continued calls for nonviolent protest, saying that “there have been nonviolent resistance movements in Palestine for over a century.” 

He tied such rhetoric in favor of nonviolent protest with instances of police brutality in the United States and said that social justice issues affecting this country were “inseparable,” citing the prevalence of rape culture, mass poverty, and police repression. 

“My experience here in a patriarchal, white supremacist, imperial, settler colonial state is directly tied to forces of capital and forces of power that also oppress Palestinians,” Hill said. 

He ended his speech by reminding protesters that their activism could not end with the conclusion of the spring semester.

“I don’t want you to think for one second that the time you spend in these encampments, that the time you spend marching down the street … don’t ever believe that it is in vain,” Hill said.

At around 9:15 p.m., a rally attendee, who told The Daily Pennsylvanian they were a Philadelphia resident and not a current student at Penn, alleged that they were physically assaulted by a counterprotester in the middle of the crowd.

“I accidentally got a little too close to [the counterprotester] with my megaphone and brushed him, and he turns around and elbows me in the chest,” the attendee said. “He was just looking for a way to agitate people, to get them to respond violently.” 

The attendee called out to three Penn Police officers who were standing behind the rally crowd, asking them to respond to the alleged confrontation. The officers initially declined to intervene — remarking that they were “just there to keep the peace" — and instead asked the attendee for their name, which they declined to provide. 

Officers later approached the counterprotester but did not remove him from the encampment area.

Rally attendees immediately cleared a path for the counterprotester to leave — explaining that he allegedly said he was trapped in the crowd. The counterprotester remained in the crowd for several minutes as rally participants chanted, “Pay him no mind,” and, "Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

The DP could not confirm if the counterprotester was a student.

The rally concluded with another round of chants targeting Jameson and pro-Israel individuals — including “Larry, Larry you’re a liar, the students set the world on fire,” “From Philly to Palestine, all our struggles intertwined,” and “Back up, back up, we want our freedom, freedom, tell these Zionist pigs we don’t need 'em, need 'em.” The crowd dispersed to pray shortly before 10 p.m.