Pro-Palestinian protesters hold rally on Abele Quad demanding cease-fire, divestment and freedom of speech

Around 150 students, Duke community members and Durham residents gathered on Abele Quad Friday morning for a pro-Palestinian rally for one of the largest demonstrations on the University’s campus since the initial Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel.

The rally came amidst a rise in pro-Palestinian encampments on college campuses throughout the country, which have led to the arrest of hundreds of students nationally. The event also follows over six months of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Duke.

As the Friday demonstration began to disperse at 10:51 a.m., event organizers encouraged demonstrators to join protesters from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in an encampment organized Friday morning at Polk Place on UNC’s campus. The organizers noted that transportation would be provided to interested students.

Students at UNC organized its first encampment April 19 in support of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia University, where 100 students were arrested by the New York Police Department the previous day.

There has not been an encampment organized on Duke’s campus. Abi, a graduate student who requested to be referred to only by her first name due to fear of retribution, said that there are no plans to hold an encampment at the University “at this time.”

At 9:51 a.m., organizers began to assemble on Abele Quad. University administrators stood by to monitor the event, and multiple demonstrators wearing yellow hazard vests surrounded the border of the quad. A Duke University Police car was parked next to the Allen Building facing the quad.

An event organizer notified the crowd that the day’s demonstrations were intended to be peaceful and that they were not looking to be arrested.

“There is no intention to be disruptive. If that is your intention, that is a choice you are making. That is not a choice that the organizers are following,” they said.

In a Thursday email to The Chronicle, Frank Tramble, vice president for communications, marketing and public affairs, wrote that “The University is aware that a rally has been announced on social media as taking place [Friday]. Student Affairs and Duke Police will be on site to maintain a safe environment for everyone if a rally does take place and to ensure policies are followed.”

Also present were a number of volunteers wearing neon green caps from the National Lawyers Guild. According to their website, they “provide legal support for political activists, protesters and movements for social change” as well as monitor and document police conduct at protests.

An April 3 pro-Palestinian protest staged during a “Bring Them Home” rally organized by pro-Israel groups was placed under investigation for including “outside individuals who were not approved to be on campus,” wrote Margot Cardamone, student affairs chief of staff, in an April 4 email to The Chronicle.

In a Friday email to The Chronicle, Tramble stated that the National Lawyers Guild has a Duke chapter. He noted that University administration is “not aware if anyone present at [Friday’s] gathering is affiliated with that chapter.”

At around 9:51 a.m. at the beginning of the demonstration, an organizer climbed onto the statue of James B. Duke and draped a keffiyeh over its neck. The same student later climbed onto the statue again and taped a Palestinian flag across its body.

“The people united will never be defeated,” the crowd chanted. “No justice, no peace.”

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Student organizers called on Duke to divest from its holdings in Israel and to release a public statement condemning the “genocide of Palestinians” in Gaza. They referenced Duke’s previous divestment in 1986 from South African companies during apartheid and in 2008 from its holdings in Sudan amidst human rights violations in Darfur.

“What we’re asking of the University is simple and has already been done many times before,” an organizer said, prompting demonstrators to chant calls for divestment by the University.

Protesters also demanded that Duke release a public statement “calling for an immediate, permanent cease-fire in Gaza.”

Durham became the second city in North Carolina to approve a cease-fire resolution after a 5-2 vote during a Feb. 20 meeting, which followed a series of work sessions and meetings overtaken by protesters. Rep. Valerie Foushee, who represents Duke and Durham in North Carolina’s 4th congressional district, previously signed on to a Dec. 1 letter calling for President Joseph Biden to work towards a bilateral cease-fire.

Protesters condemned the administration's decision to paint over the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” on the Free Expression Bridge off of East Campus in October, calling the move a “violation of student[s’] freedom of speech” and the University’s Statement on Open Expression.

"The phrase added to the bridge in October was painted over because it is understood by many in our community and beyond as a call for violence targeting the Jewish community," Tramble wrote in the Friday email. "We took great care at that time not to alter other sentiments elsewhere on the bridge, including images and words that advocate for Palestinian rights and call for Palestinian freedom. Messages of advocacy have appeared on the bridge since then and continue to do so."

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An ongoing demonstration

By 10:17 a.m., the crowd had swelled to around 150 protesters, many of whom held signs with phrases such as “Ceasefire now,” “Jews 4 Ceasefire” and “Duke Disclose Divest.”

Demonstrators began clapping along to chants, which included “President [Vincent] Price, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “Not another nickel, not another dime; no more money for Israel’s crimes.”

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Another student demonstrator claimed that Duke has “consistently refused to investigate or even speak on” incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism on campus.

"All reports of harassment and discrimination at Duke are investigated," Tramble wrote in the Friday email. "Duke students can report incidents of harassment to the Office of Institutional Equity. Students can report concerns about the behavior of other students to Student Affairs through a DukeReach report.

“As we take our final exams and prepare for graduation, we must remember that no universities are left in Gaza,” an organizer said during Friday’s demonstration. “Israel has robbed Palestinians of their right to education by destroying all academic infrastructure and communities.”

Duke Academics and Staff for Justice in Palestine previously organized a “Stop Scholasticide” vigil on March 1 mourning professors who were killed in the Gaza Strip. Nearly 100 students, faculty and staff attended the event.

Duke Students for Justice in Palestine posted a digital flyer on Instagram Friday morning announcing the demonstration, which was scheduled to last from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Abi said she thinks the event was a result of “a very organic communion” among the pro-Palestinian community.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric right now in the media about these protests being labeled as antisemitic, despite the fact that at nearly all of these protests, there’s a large, very visible Jewish contingent of students who are helping to organize and who are a large part of what’s going on,” she said. “To me, part of my motivation to be here was to be a visible and loud Jewish voice saying like, ‘I am anti-Zionist, and I am here, and I stand with the people of Palestine.’”

Michael Austin contributed reporting.

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Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

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Abby Spiller | Editor-in-Chief

Abby Spiller is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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