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Published on May 27, 2024
Rice University Hosts "Liberated Zone" During Nationwide Pro-Palestinian Protests in HoustonSource: Rice University

IRice University students banded together, setting up an encampment dubbed the "Liberated Zone," where discussions and sharing of experiences regarding the war in Gaza took center stage. Matti Haacke, a junior and organizer with the Rice chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, stressed the significance of the gathering. "Genuinely, the Liberated Zone was the best thing I've ever seen happen on Rice campus," Haacke told the Houston Chronicle.

Rice's administration allowed the event to proceed without interference, where over 2,000 arrests have been reported. The Houston protests, however, went without such altercations. At Rice, around 40 students participated in the peaceful demonstrations, complemented by educational sessions and coffee breaks. The university and student organizers reached a consensus to strictly not camp overnight, as Rice President Reginald DesRoches emphasized respect for freedom of expression while ensuring the school's functions remained uninterrupted.

Haacke, who is pro-Palestinian and Jewish, underscored the divisiveness of the issue on campus. "There was definitely a lot of push and pull, and we pushed a lot," Haacke explained in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. Tensions arose with differing interpretations of chants and the university's alleged failure to properly address complaints, prompting intense discussions between students and administrators.

Meanwhile, at the University of Houston, students in solidarity with the movement posted a list of companies to boycott. A quiet event also unfolded at Rice, featuring Palestinian flags and a presentation by a Rice alumnus with personal ties to Jerusalem. "All 150 chapters of SJP are mobilizing around the country towards the same goal," Anna Rajagopal, an organizer with SJP at Rice, told Houston Public Media, aiming to create momentum for Gaza's people.

Accusations of antisemitism have been leveled against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement associated with the protests, as stated by Rabbi Kenny Weiss, Executive Director of Houston Hillel. "Short of seeing a swastika painted on a dormitory, it's actually very, very difficult for people to understand what antisemitism is," Weiss conveyed to Houston Public Media. The escalating tension on campuses comes amid rising antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents reported in the southwest region of Texas last year.