Updated May 6, 2024 - News

Pro-Palestinian protesters reclaim MIT encampment, defying order to clear

Student protesters sit around the encampment at MIT after tearing down the fence blocking it off, defying the college president's order to clear the site.

Student protesters stand around the encampment at MIT they reclaimed after initially following MIT President Sally Kornbluth's order to clear the site. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Student protesters who were ordered to clear an encampment on MIT's campus ultimately reclaimed the site hours after the college's deadline to disperse, tearing down fencing surrounding the tents.

Why it matters: Even the longest-running encampments in Massachusetts may be nearing their end as tensions escalate ahead of graduation.

  • MIT's encampment escaped demolition for now.

Catch up quick: MIT President Sally Kornbluth gave protesters until 2:30pm Monday to leave the encampment on the green space known as Kresge Oval.

  • Campus police set up a tent with machines to swipe protesters' student IDs as they cleared the encampment.
  • Those who left and hadn't already faced disciplinary action would get a written warning, while others would face suspension and other penalties, Kornbluth wrote in a message to students Monday.
  • The move came after Harvard's interim president warned students would face disciplinary action for not leaving the Harvard Yard encampment.
Hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters at MIT surround the perimeter of an encampment on the lawn, where a handful of people remained after MIT told them to clear by 2:30pm.
Pro-Palestine protesters at MIT surround the perimeter of an encampment, where a handful of people remained after MIT told them to clear by 2:30pm. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

State of play: All but five students initially cleared the encampment around 2:30pm Monday.

  • Hundreds of fellow protesters surrounded them, calling on MIT to cut research ties with Israel.
  • Nearly four hours later, protesters knocked down the fence and returned to the encampment.
  • At its peak, a couple dozen counter-protesters waving Israeli and American flags chanted back and blasted music. The counter-protest dissipated by the evening.

Threat level: Cambridge police and state troopers, including state SWAT officers, gathered to monitor the protests.

  • Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups confronted one another on several occasions, prompting officers to set up barricades and intervene at times.
  • No arrests were made, but Kornbluth said in an update to students that police would continue to monitor the situation.
A Cambridge police officer moves a barricade between pro-Israel protesters and pro-Palestine protesters as hundreds, perhaps thousands, swarm MIT's campus Monday, May 6, 2024.
A Cambridge police officer sets up a barricade near a line of officers separating pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Zoom in: Tensions escalated after students with the MIT Israel Alliance say they were prevented from celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, on the Kresge Oval on May 7.

  • The group booked the space months ago, according to a letter written by MITIA co-presidents Talia Khan and Eitan Moore.

By the time the reservation rolled around, pro-Palestinian protesters had been running an encampment on the lawn for two weeks.

  • Kornbluth did not explicitly mention MITIA's reservation, but stated in her message that, "no matter how peaceful the students' behavior may be, unilaterally taking over a central portion of our campus for one side of a hotly disputed issue and precluding use by other members of our community is not right."

Kornbluth also cited the "threat of outside interference," saying it's caused encampments at other colleges to devolve.

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