Right-wing commentators vastly overhyped the threat to the pro-Palestine encampment on UW’s quad posed by Pursuit Church’s “March for Israel.” The Sunday action that journalist-turned-agitator Jonathan Choe said would “buzzsaw” through the United Front for Palestinian Liberation’s (UF) Liberated Zone ended up diverting after an uneventful 10-minute standoff at the south entrance of the quad. 

For the second time since students pitched tents on the quad lawn, protesters have chosen to defend their encampment instead of giving right-wing vloggers the fight they are so desperate for. As it turns out, the student protesters would rather hold down the fort to keep pressure on UW to meet their demands, which include divesting financially and academically from Israel, cutting ties with Boeing, and ending the repression of pro-Palestinian voices. 

“We continue to lay our bodies on the line because we understand that the ongoing genocide in Palestine must be treated with urgency,” said UF media liaison Zho Ragen in a message to The Stranger. “If the University truly cared about treating this genocide with the urgency it deserves, addressing its complicity in the genocide, or protecting its students from violence, UW administration would immediately meet our demands in full.”

All That for 10 Minutes?

At 4:30 pm on Sunday, a few hundred pro-Israel counterprotesters gathered in Red Square. According to posts online, up until that afternoon, the group seemed bent on marching straight through the Liberated Zone. But both UW admin and UF clearly wanted to keep the groups separate. 

On Sunday morning, UW propped up barricades at every entrance to the quad and stationed a handful of officers at the south entrance, through which the Pursuit Church planned to lead its march. 

The encampment protesters then reinforced those barricades with chicken wire, siding, palettes, garbage cans, bike racks, and, of course, hundreds of community supporters who responded to their public calls for back-up. 

Speakers at the rally said they didn’t want a fight, either. One speaker told the crowd he expected Christian people to act like Christians and Jewish people to act like Jews, which to him meant keeping the peace.

At about 5:30 pm, the pro-Israel counterprotesters rushed over to join a smattering of their comrades who were already heckling the pro-Palestine protesters holding the line at the south enterance behind a line of police.

During the 10 minute interaction, the pro-Palestine protesters chanted about their demands, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the ongoing genocide in Gaza, in which Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians since Hamas killed 1,200 Israels in their attack on Oct. 7. 

The pro-Israel side also chanted “bring them home,” in reference to the 132 hostages still held by Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected several deals with Hamas to release hostages contingent on a ceasefire. 

The counterprotesters also took the confrontation as an opportunity to tease their political rivals, yelling at them to take off their masks, which they argued signaled cowardice. Online, conservative talking heads got a good laugh at cops seemingly defending students and lefties who probably protested to defund the police in 2020. 

For their part, UF has been clear about not wanting police near the Liberated Zone. Last week, UF blasted UW for briefly sending a handful of cops to the encampment when they expected outside agitators to spill over from the Charlie Kirk speaking event at the HUB. UF did not respond to my request for comment about the police presence Sunday. 

After about ten minutes and no scuffles to speak of, the pro-Israel protesters walked around the quad and to the church. 

“Our priority was to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus during what we anticipated could be a tense afternoon,” said UW spokesperson Victor Balta. “We took proactive steps to maintain distance between opposing groups. Given the circumstances, through good planning and the fact that the vast majority of people participating in various activities sought to exercise their free speech rights without violence or aggression, we reached a largely peaceful conclusion to the day.”

Side Squabbles 

The only notable interactions between the two sides happened apart from the main confrontation. 

A protester holding a Palestinian flag left the barricade to speak to a few counterprotesters at around 5:15 pm, before the larger group approached the quad. Other pro-Palestine protesters intervened and brought the protest back into the encampment in less than three minutes. 

After the pro-Israel group left the south entrance, a pro-Palestine protester dressed in black made a cloud of smoke with their bike. Choe shoved a camera in their face and some pro-Israel protesters started to engage, but someone from their side quickly redirected them. 

Basically, all the counterprotesters had marched away from the quad by 6 pm, but Daily UW reporter Sofia Schwarzwalder tweeted that an “altercation broke out” at the west barricade. That confrontation resulted in pro-Palestine protesters burning an Israeli flag.

The Movement Continues 

The whole day amounted to little more than a clip farm for conservative Twitter personalities, but protesters on the inside believe that the outpouring of support from community members shows the popularity of their mission to protect the encampment until UW meets their demands.

If that’s the case, they may end up camping for quite some time. Last Friday, UW issued a statement claiming that their “response to students’ call for change will not be based on an encampment” but rather “constructive engagement on issues that are important or meaningful to our students and broader campus community.” In the statement, UW called on students to “dismantle the encampment voluntarily for everyone’s safety and continue constructive engagement for collective action.”

As I’ve written before, the UW has three options with the encampment: Respond to the students’ demands, dismantle it with police force, or just try to wait them out. So far, it seems as if UW plans to take the third, most hands-off approach. 

“The University continues to work toward a peaceful, voluntary departure of the encampment,” Balta told The Stranger in an email. “To be clear, the steps the University has taken in recent days have been in an attempt to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus. While that includes people in the encampment, it would be a mischaracterization to describe these actions as ‘protecting, supporting or maintaining’ the encampment itself.”

But after the encampment survived the Sunday march and the attention from the Charlie Kirk events last week, UW may have to take a side if they want to get tents out of the quad. 

So, what will it be—supporting Israel and weapons manufacturers, or supporting the demands of their students?