As University of Washington police pried a protesting student’s clasped hands apart and dragged them from their nine-hour-long sit-in in the Office of the Vice Provost, the surrounding pro-Palestinian student activists held onto each other tight, screaming “SPD, KKK, IDF, you’re all the same.”

By 9:30 pm Thursday, UWPD had “removed” 36 protesters one by one from their occupation in Gerberding Hall, which houses University President Ana Mari Cauce’s office. Even as the last protester emerged from the building, greeted by a heavy Seattle Police Department presence, the protester did not cower. She stood on the steps of Gerberding, wrapped in her keffiyeh, and yelled “Free, free Palestine… Within our lifetime!” 

Student activists at the University of Washington are not afraid to stand up for Palestinian liberation—or if they are, they can’t afford to show it. 

Throughout the two-month escalation of Israel’s reign of terror on Palestine, pro-Palestine advocates have faced doxxing, harassment, stalking, blacklisting, and state condemnation. Last month, a white man shot three Palestinian college students in Vermont in an alleged hate crime that left one student paralyzed from the chest down. 

But with support for the Palestinian cause growing in recent weeks, recent UW graduate and Students United for Palestinian Equality and Return (SUPER UW) Jonah Silverstein said advocates feel less and less afraid of Zionists' usual tactics of suppression. 

And so, on the steps of Gerberding Hall Thursday morning, a student wrapped in a keffiyeh told more than 100 student protesters that they needed to escalate. Israel’s bombardment has leveled more than half the homes in Gaza, displaced 1.8 million residents, and killed at least 17,000 Palestinians, which exceeds the carnage of the Nakba, or the “catastrophe,” in 1948. So far, marches and vigils, however moving, have not stopped Israel’s genocide, nor have they pressured UW to meet the student's demands: Divest from Israel, cut ties with Boeing, and stop suppressing pro-Palestinian sentiment from students and faculty. 

The speaker said, “[Our] power is useless if we only ever operate within the bounds of the university and the state allows us to operate.”

The organizers laid out the risks of their sit-in. With the stated intention to stay in Gerberding until the cops kicked them out, the organizers said participants could face arrest. 

About 100 students joined SUPER UW and United Front for Palestinian Liberation in hunkering down in the Office of the Vice Provost. The protesters left a clear mark: hanging flags, sticking Post-its on the walls, even leaving notes in desks for a personal reminder that “while you’re working, bombs are dropping.” 

Throughout the action, Cauce’s Chief of Staff Margaret Shepherd and UWPD Police Chief Craig Wilson tried various tactics to break up the anti-genocide action. 

For her “good cop” part, Shepherd offered them a meeting with Cauce the following day if they left, calling it their “opportunity for an audience.” Organizers asked for a phone call that day. Later that afternoon, Shepherd said Cauce would call them if they left the building first. Not wanting to give up their post without any real concessions from the University, the students decided to stay put. 

For his “bad cop” part, Wilson and another officer attempted to remove and threatened to confiscate flags. One organizer said, “We have plenty of flags, we’ll just keep putting them back up.” “And we’ll just keep taking them down,” Wilson responded. 

Most boldly, Wilson lifted a student while they sat in an office chair in an attempt to remove them. Students told The Stranger that Wilson has made a lot of enemies with student organizers, but they are not surprised. UWPD exists to crush student activism, one organizer said, noting the department originated in response to anti-war protesters during the Vietnam War. 

While Wilson’s effort to remove the student failed, Shepard told the protestors that UWPD would “enforce fire code” and start citing participants for trespassing at 5:15 pm. Video from participants shows cops dragging protesters away from the action. Participants claim that the cops took their pictures one by one before escorting them out of the building. UW did not respond to my request for comment.

Advocating against US-backed genocide can have real consequences as Silverstein told The Stranger before the sit-in Thursday. But the harassment, fear of doxxing, and threat of police have less “impact” on advocates in recent weeks, he said.  

Knowing they could be arrested for their action, participants told The Stranger, they “don’t care” if their whole face shows up on front page news. Organizers told The Stranger they still proudly put their affiliations with pro-Palestine groups on their job applications. One protester introduced himself to Chief Wilson by his full name, shook his hand, and immediately went back to yelling “Shame on you, shame on you,” inches from his face. 

Students brought signs, snacks, and their homework for the long-haul action. HANNAH KRIEG

“They're grasping at straws to try and minimize our movement, to doubt our integrity,” Silverstein said. “But we know that we're strong when we're together, and that we're going to keep fighting no matter what gets thrown at us.”