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Pro-Palestinian protests continue at Case Western Reserve University after students detained

Aerial view of people camping on a circular grassy area on a college campus.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Law enforcement dismantled a camp Monday on the Case Western Reserve University campus where students were demanding a cease-fire in Gaza.

A peaceful protest, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, continued throughout the afternoon Monday at Case Western Reserve University, after two dozen protesters, many of them students, were detained and released by police. The officers took action not long after students set up an encampment.

The students - joined by some local residents - set up signs calling for a cease-fire and draped Palestinian flags over the barriers setup by the university over the Kelvin Smith Library Oval.

People holding the flag of Palestine and a sign reading, "Welcome to the People's University for Palestine" on a circular lawn. CWRU police officers in black stand watching.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Pro-Palestinian protesters gather on the lawn in front of the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University with a sign reading, "Welcome to the people's University for Palestine," on Monday, April 29, 2024.

The private university said in a statement that the issue was the tents set up in the green space at the oval, not the protest itself. Students tried on several other occasions throughout the morning and afternoon to set up tents, as a way to give protesters shade, but were rebuffed by police. Sabrina Wicker, a protest organizer and CWRU student, said the university's strategy was clear.

"So it seems like this is a bit of a divisive tactic to make it so that people, if they want to be remotely comfortable, or not risk passing out in the heat, they have to leave," she said.

Man sits on a bench wearing a tan blazer and a black, white, green scarf with the word "Palestine"
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Case Western Reserve University professor Pete Moore, Monday, April 29, 2024.

Pete Moore, the M.A. Hanna Associate Professor of Politics, said the university's response wasn't surprising considering the forceful condemnation CWRU President Eric Kaler gave when the student government voted for resolution calling for the university to divest from companies that provide support to Israel's military, industry and prisons. Still, he said the police detaining students was "horrible."

"I've been here 19 years, and I have never seen Case Western Reserve officers attack our students, and they feel horrible about it, too. These are professionals that are supposed to protect the campus," Moore said. "And yet this president tells them (students) that they have to be arrested for merely putting up tents."

Peter Whiting, interim vice president for student affairs at CWRU, said the university wants students to express themselves but has a right to regulate the use of its space, especially as a private university.

"Students are welcome to express themselves," he said. "But they have to do it in a way that is appropriate in its time, place and manner."

Whiting said the location of the protest was acceptable because it's not disrupting university operations but setting up tents was not; meanwhile, he said the protest should be contained to daylight hours.

Pro-Palestinian students and others held a sit-in at an encampment they set up on CAse Western Reserve University's KSL Oval Monday morning; organizers say police started arresting protesters not long after.
Provided by Jad Oglseby
Case Western Reserve University Students for Justice in Palestine
Pro-Palestinian students and others held a sit-in at an encampment they set up on CAse Western Reserve University's KSL Oval Monday morning; organizers say police started arresting protesters not long after.

Jad Oglesby, vice president for the CWRU chapter of Students for Justice for Palestine, said the students that were detained were sitting down and protesting peacefully.

"The reaction from, University Circle P.D., Case P.D., and CPD is honestly really surprising," he said. "It just really just shows how uncomfortable they are with what's going on and how badly they want to silence our narrative, how how badly they want this all to go away."

He said the protesters are sticking around in spite of the morning's events.

"This encampment, it's a show that the students of the students at Case Western Reserve University and the people of Cleveland, do not support this apartheid regime. We want a cease-fire," he said.

The university released a statement from the school's president, Eric Kaler, in response to today's demonstration in which he called open discourse and the free exchange of ideas "hallmarks of higher education ... central to all that we do at Case Western Reserve."

"We are seeing this in action right now, as individuals in support of Palestinian liberation are protesting on the Kelvin Smith Library oval," Kaler added. "We support these individuals’ rights to free speech, and Case Western Reserve police will protect their right to peaceful freedom of expression in accordance with our policies."

Benjamin Bilgen, with the Cleveland chapter of the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group, stopped by to lend his support to the protesters.

"They (elected officials) have been trying to say that encampments like this are anti-Jewish, that they're anti-Semitic. And I find that suggestion actually anti-Semitic, which is implying that all Jews must inherently be supporters of Israel," he said.

Pro-cease-fire protests - many of them including encampments that have been taken down by police - have taken root on college campuses across the country in recent weeks. Protests are set for other campuses across Northeast Ohio this week, including at Kent State University and Oberlin College.

Student wearing a baseball cap and face mask works on her laptop while sitting on the grass with others at a pro-Palestinian demontration.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
A CWRU student who would only identify herself as Anna, works on her laptop during a student occupation of the Kelvin Smith Library oval, on Monday, April 29, 2024.

Updated: April 29, 2024 at 4:32 PM EDT
This story has been updated to with new information about ongoing protests on campus.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the president of CWRU.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.