35,000 dead; Instead, Harvard suspends students | Opinion

Today in Gaza, more than 110,000 people have fled Rafah as Israel launched a ground invasion of the city, cornering 1.4 million Palestinians. To protest this genocide, more than 20 Harvard students, including me, were placed on involuntary leave of absence. The impact of involuntary furlough is severe and immediate: we are currently facing loss of housing, tuition, degrees and visas.

The move follows over 60 students being referred to their schools’ administrators for alleged ties to the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition camp in the Yard. Both waves of repression were unprecedented in recent history in their severity and cruel arbitrariness. Some students on leave had never set foot in a tent. Others are international students who are now threatened with deportation.

All were punished because they protested against our university’s complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the genocide in Gaza.

The sanctions follow a pattern of blocking interim university President Alan M. Garber in 1976. On Wednesday, Garber agreed through back channels and faculty intermediaries to meet with HOOP coalition student representatives for the first time in the four months of his presidency.

Garber opened the meeting with a threat: If the camp remained at Harvard Yard, involuntary furlough letters would be sent the next day. And although Garber said he would be afraid to involve the police, the message was clear: It’s on the table. He made it clear several times that the meeting was just a conversation and not a path to negotiation.

In the “Conversation,” we asked Garber for future meetings with university officials to negotiate our demands. We made it clear that there would be no withdrawal unless the university met our initial demands for disclosure, divestment and reinvestment and dropped disciplinary action against the organizers – the reason we created our exempt zone in the first place. The meeting ended without Garber making any immediate commitments.

The next morning, Garber got in touch, again through backchannels, with a sad pretext for an offer: to demolish the camp immediately in exchange for informational meetings about the foundation. No amnesty for the disciplined students. No disclosure. No divestment. No reinvestment. Just talk.

As Garber bluntly put it in a later email, “a conversation, not a negotiation.”

We believe this is a disingenuous attempt to fragment our collective power through discursive traps. We don’t need a meeting about how the foundation works. In fact, we have spent years researching the intricacies of Harvard’s investments and the technical details of its divestiture. What we need is simple: a real effort to negotiate our demands, which we have insisted on from the start.

The next day, HOOP liaisons offered Garber immediate withdrawal in exchange for a promise to negotiate specific demands. First, assess the prospects for full disclosure as you establish a public records request model. Second, phase out direct investment in companies that invest in weapons manufacturing, military and surveillance technology, or the maintenance of illegal Israeli settlements. Third, stop accepting donations from donors associated with such companies or who harass and bully students. And fourth, reinvest by establishing a Center for Palestine Studies on campus.

This list was a compromise to our original calls for full disclosure, divestment and reinvestment, and fee reduction. It was a sign of goodwill and an attempt to find a way forward.

Instead of accommodating our new requests, Garber stated in no uncertain terms that he would “not consider” them in an email sent to us that evening. The next morning he imposed mass suspensions. Even a Crimson reporter was sent a notice of involuntary leave, and National Lawyers Guild-certified legal observers were referred by the board.

In the same hour that the suspensions were imposed, Garber met with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt, who has built his career on denigrating and harassing Palestinians and allies of Palestinian liberation. Afterward, Greenblatt was happy that the ADL “welcomes” Garber’s “decision not to negotiate with those in the camp.”

Apparently Harvard is willing to work with external actors, but not with its own students.

Seven months after the start of the latest genocidal attack on Gaza, as the Israeli ground invasion of Rafah threatens to open one of the bloodiest chapters yet, we have a moral obligation to continue to stand up for both the martyrs and the living. Every university in Gaza was reduced to rubble. Students and professors were brutally killed. Our university’s foundation partially financed this disaster.

We have done our best to protest this complicity, even as we recognize that Palestinians deserve infinitely more. We organized rallies. We have made divestment decisions. We tried a referendum. Ultimately, we created the camp, a nonviolent, multicultural space of dissent—something Harvard promises but is not.

We know what would be necessary to amicably put an end to this camp: a meaningful discussion of our demands. To be clear, the only person standing in the way of dismantling the camp is Garber.

No disciplinary consequences will stand between us and our commitment to a liberated Palestine. We will not rest until Harvard discloses and withdraws from its investments in genocide. We sleep well knowing that our solidarity is deeply rooted and our commitment remains unshakable.

If Garber insists that we have to do this while sleeping in tents, then so be it.

Rameen A. Javadian is a second-year master’s student in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School and an organizer for the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition.