Pro-Palestinian student encampment clashes with administration, police force and counterprotestors

Tensions heighten as MIT administration mandates clearing of the encampment following rallies and attempted negotiations

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Pro-Israeli counterprotestors take up the steps of Lobby 7 during a community rally, Friday, May 3.
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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators set up a second encampment on a field off 84 Mass Ave, Wednesday, May 1.
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Pro-Palestinian protestors surround the entrance of the Scientists Against Genocide Encampment during an emergency rally on campus, Monday, May 6.
Ellie Montemayor - The Tech

Primary reporting by Ellie Montemayor ’26.

Additional reporting contributions from Alex Tang ’26, Karie Shen ’27, and Russel Ismael VS.

As the pro-Palestinian Scientists Against Genocide Encampment pressed on with its third week holding Kresge Oval, its continued presence has escalated into numerous clashes between the encampment and MIT officials, law enforcement at the municipal and state level, and pro-Israeli counterprotestors.

The past week saw major demonstrations by the Coalition For Palestine (C4P) including  coordinated rallies on May 1, May 3 and May 6. The Institute administration continues to voice disapproval of the encampment as negotiations between administrators and student protestors enters its second week. An initial negotiation meeting on April 26 was staffed by Chancellor Melissa Nobles, Vice President for Research Ian Waitz, Provost Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo.

Demonstrations against the encampment also occurred as pro-Israeli counter-protestors planted rows of signs depicting Israeli hostages held in Gaza, posted signs and posters supporting the Israeli intervention in Palestine, and staked Israeli and American flags around the encampment. On numerous occasions, groups of pro-Israeli counter-protestors draped in Israeli and American flags occupied the interior of the encampment. 


Friction between the Kornbluth’s administration and encampment organizers

Negotiations between the administration and representatives of the campus pro-Palestinian movement began on April 26, with further meetings scheduled for the days following. After student protestors disrupted a donor event at the Boston Marriott Cambridge in Kendall Square the following day, negotiations were abruptly terminated and President Sally Kornbluth issued a statement to the MIT community detailing the current state of the situation.

Kornbluth stated that the encampment on Kresge Oval “has been a clear violation of our procedures for registering and reserving space for campus demonstrations,” and these rules the encampment members are violating are “independent of content [of speech].” She clarified that these rules are in place to “make sure that everyone can have freedom of speech.” For individuals that have broken Institute rules, Kornbluth said that they “will face disciplinary action.”

Kornbluth also noted that although she finds some chants by the protestors to be “disturbing” — like calling for “the elimination of the state of Israel” — she believes that “these chants are protected speech.” Furthermore, Kornbluth claimed that the students involved are no longer engaging in “good-faith discussions” because of how they “disrupted another official MIT event” the morning of April 27, referring to the incident at the Boston Marriott Cambridge.

Kornbluth also addressed the resources required to keep the area staffed and monitored, the range of views expressed to her administration by various members of the MIT community and her commitment to academic freedom at the Institute.

At the end of the statement, Kornbluth affirmed her willingness to continue negotiations but reiterates her desire for the closure of the encampment, writing, “We are open to further discussion about the means of ending the encampment. But this particular form of expression needs to end soon.”

In response, the C4P sent out an email on the same day to all undergraduates. Safiyyah Ogundipe ’24, a C4P organizer, wrote that the group met with MIT officials to confirm their demand of “[cutting] ties with the Ministry of Defense of Israel.”

Ogundipe claimed that Kornbluth’s administration “came unprepared with nothing concrete in hand” and practiced “bad-faith engagement.” Ogundipe added that the administration “pushed for a vague and ill-defined ‘review process’” regarding their demand to divest from Israel. She also claimed that the administration representatives attempted to leave the negotiations and threatened “violent arrest against the encampment.” According to Ogundipe, the academic freedom argument that the administration presents is “inconsistent with reality and history,” and they also did not provide a counter proposal to work towards.

Negotiations were resumed the following day on April 28 with no clear resolution. Counter-proposals offered by the administration were rejected by the pro-Palestinian negotiators on Monday, April 29.

On the eve of April 29, the encampment was mobilized as rumors of a possible police raid surfaced in the wake of a full clearing of the pro-Palestinian encampment at Northeastern University. The anticipated sweep did not materialize, and further negotiation efforts were scheduled in the following days.


Wednesday, May 1 — Demonstrators establish second encampment in May Day rally

On May 1, a community rally was organized as a collaborative effort between the campus pro-Palestine movement and local organizers such as the Boston chapters of the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Party for Socialism & Liberation. The rally marched to 77 Mass Ave and took up the steps of Lobby 7 by 5:00 p.m., as part of a nationwide call to action in observance of International Workers’ Day  and amidst workers’ rights rallies mobilized across the Greater Boston area. International Workers’ Day, also referred to as May Day, is not officially recognized by the United States, which instead observed Labor Day in September.

Other pro-Palestinian demonstrations on May 1 were held at Emerson College’s Boylston Place Alley and also at Boston City Hall.

Nishad Gothoskar G, an area chief steward for the Graduate Student Union (GSU) representing the MIT School of Engineering and the College of Computing, served as one of the Mass Ave rally’s speakers. “We are here at the steps of MIT to demand that our institution cut our research ties with the Israeli occupation — MIT must end its complicity,” Gothoskar said. 

After Gothoskar’s speech, a rally organizer requested that “all of us come together as compact as possible and move to take both sides of this street here, so we shut down all traffic.” By 5:41 p.m., the rally took hold of Mass Ave and blocked traffic.

After another speech by Northeastern University graduate student and Boston South Asian Coalition organizer Sana Qureshi, organizers from the MIT encampment rushed into the scene with supplies and began setting up a second encampment on the field at 84 Mass Ave adjoining the pavement. “Now if you turn around and look behind you, in real time we will see the MIT encampment expanding,” a rally organizer said.

The action, which was not previously announced as part of the rally, led to a rapid, heightened mobilization of law enforcement as eventually officers from MIT Police, Cambridge Police, and State Police convened upon the scene.

A rally organizer called on the attendees to “form a picket around [the MIT students] as they expand the encampment.” By 5:54 p.m., the group moved to surround the sidewalk and the field as student organizers from MIT set up tents and brought in supplies. A large welcome sign was erected facing Mass Ave which read, “MIT Dahdouh Welcome Center,” in reference to Palestinian journalist Wael Al-Dahdouh.

Mohamed Mohamed G reaffirmed the purpose of the student pro-Palestinian movement and the impetus behind this action in a speech. “We are here because we have seen every institution fail to stand up for the Palestinian people,” Mohamed said.

The establishment of the second encampment was reportedly in response to the police selectively moving correspondents from Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern media network, to Mass Ave. In recent days, Al Jazeera reporters had been observed taking interviews and broadcasting coverage from the Mass Ave sidewalk. 

The second encampment consisted of a central canopy surrounded by six tents, each named after localities from the States of Israel and Palestine: Bethlehem, Jabaliya, Birwa, Al Bireh, Gaza City and Deir Yassin. Some of the tents were newly set up while others were brought to the so-called Welcome Center from the Kresge Oval encampment. Three large banners stylized as receipts were hung from the central canopy of the second encampment: one detailing all current funded research contracts between MIT and the Israel Ministry of Defense, a second highlighting statistics of incidental damages and civilian injuries resulting from the Israeli intervention in the Gaza Strip, and a third that writes, “MIT engineers Israeli killer drones.”

The rally continued into the night with chanting and community socializing as food was handed out by encampment organizers. By 10:00 p.m., the crowd had largely dispersed. The second encampment was left uninhabited at the end of the night and encampment organizers moved three of the larger tents back to the Kresge Oval encampment. Administrators reportedly threatened organizers with disciplinary action and suspension.

The same day, the Boston City Council officially called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza by an 11-2 vote. The Cambridge and Somerville City Councils had voted in their own ceasefire resolutions in late January.

Rumors surfaced that night of a possible police raid in retaliation to the establishment of the Welcome Center, but were soon debunked after mediated discussion. The Welcome Center was left unmanned overnight, as all encampment affiliates remained at the site of the Kresge Oval encampment. By 9:00 a.m. the next day, the Welcome Center was disassembled by facilities workers and the field was enclosed with metal barricades. The field continues to be closed off with fencing as of the time of this article’s publication.

At the time, encampment affiliates had begun preparing a response to a planned pro-Israeli rally to be held on May 3 at Mass Ave.


Friday, May 3 — Pro-Israel rally takes up steps of Lobby 7

As word of a planned pro-Israeli rally on 77 Mass Ave spread, campus organizers coordinated with local pro-Palestinian activist groups to orchestrate a call for a counter-demonstration at the Kresge Oval encampment on the opposite side of the street.

A six-foot-tall metal barricade, covered in green tarp, was established the morning of May 3 by facilities workers in anticipation of the event. Encampment affiliates subsequently called on the administration to tear down their “apartheid wall,” referencing the use of fortifications to enact political segregation and likening this action to ongoing accusations of Israeli-led apartheid. The enclosure had two entrances: one facing McCormick Hall, designated for emergency egress and manned by MIT Police, and a main entrance facing the Zesiger Center.

Three-foot-tall metal fencing was also extensively placed around the Student Center plaza and across Mass Ave. MIT Police, Cambridge Police and State Police were observed patrolling the scene.

Ahead of the rally, pro-Palestinian protestors drew to the Student Center plaza and the Kresge Oval encampment at 11:00 a.m. Throughout the day, encampment affiliates and demonstrators engaged in chanting, picketing and speaking as part of an “emergency rally” to “defend the MIT encampment.”

The pro-Israeli rally convened on the steps of Lobby 7 at 1:00 p.m., with dozens of pro-Israeli counterprotestors gathered around a large stage and speaker system as a speaker series began. Among other topics, the speakers discussed the ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment across the street from Lobby 7 and expressed displeasure with the MIT administration for a perceived lack of direct action to shut down what they viewed as an illegal and disruptive demonstration.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators were observed on the other side of Mass Ave silently holding up picket signs and Palestinian flags. Verbal and physical confrontation between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators were observed, with demonstrators from the groups continually being separated from one another through police intervention.

As the rally came to a close around 2:30 p.m., the organizers of the event reiterated to the crowd to avoid engaging with pro-Palestinian protestors. “We are going to stay here and then disperse in that direction,” one of the organizers said, pointing away from the encampment. “So that’s how we do it — we do not engage.”

Small groups of pro-Israeli demonstrators still made their way to the encampment. Over the next hour, tensions heightened as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators faced off. No major physical altercations were observed.

Spectators and police gathered around the entrance of the Kresge Oval as confrontations between protesters ensued. Some participants of the pro-Israeli rally attempted to enter the encampment, and were eventually let in after extensive mediated discussion with police officers present. Over the next hour, the encampment was at various times closed for access as encampment organizers blocked the entrance. A pro-Palestinian chanting circle was initiated at the encampment, followed by megaphone-supported chanting by pro-Israeli counterprotestors from the encampment entrance.

By 4:30 p.m., the pro-Israeli group stationed outside of the encampment entrance had largely dispersed. Heightened police presence was observed until the end of the day.


Monday, May 6 — Protestors swarm Kresge Oval encampment as evacuation ordered

Around 8:00 a.m. on Monday, May 6, an I.D. checkpoint was set up at the main entrance of the encampment and manned by MIT Police and staff administrators from the Division of Student Life. Access to the encampment was restricted to MIT affiliates, and anyone entering the encampment was ordered to tap on card readers.

Officers and staff administrators manning the checkpoint expressed a lack of clear instruction with regards to this action and described to reporters from The Tech that they had not received word from Institute officials regarding the checkpoint.

Tensions heightened as those within the encampment were served a letter signed by Chancellor Melissa Nobles around 1:13 p.m. warning them of disciplinary action for those remaining in the encampment. The letter issued a deadline of 2:30 p.m. for evacuation of the encampment. Access to the encampment was also fully restricted; all individuals were allowed to exit but denied entry at this point in time.

As the letter was circulated to the MIT community with a community message sent out by President Kornbluth around 1:37 p.m., officers and administrators who manned the checkpoint continued to express a lack of communication from the administration and held that no instruction had been given. “All I know is what’s on that,” a staff administrator said, pointing to copies of the letter issued by Chancellor Nobles.

By 2:00 p.m., dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators swarmed the entrance of the encampment, calling against the anticipated suspensions of the students. The emergency rally in front of the encampment entrance on May 6 came just hours following another round of failed negotiations between the MIT administration and a negotiating team representing the pro-Palestinian movement on campus from earlier that day.

The Institution’s push for evacuation of the encampment came as the administration faced continuing pressure from pro-Israeli demonstrators. Jewish and Israeli affinity groups on campus had, prior to the establishment of the encampment, reserved Kresge Oval for a planned celebration for the Israel Day of Independence on May 7. According to MIT Israel Alliance presidents Talia Khan G and Eitan Moore ’26, the groups were “assured” by the administration in private communications from late April that the encampment was to be removed from the lawn ahead of the event, based on emails reviewed by The Tech. The groups reportedly denied an offer to relocate the event to Hockfield Court on the same day, and a second offer to postpone the event to May 14.

Activity in the Student Center plaza intensified in the following hours, and by 5:00 p.m. the plaza was occupied by hundreds of students and spectators, including pro-Palestinian protestors and pro-Israeli counterprotestors; dozens of officers from MIT Police, Cambridge Police and State Police were deployed in the area. At the time, five students remained in the encampment and were accompanied by three faculty members. 

A second pro-Palestinian demonstration was also observed on Mass Ave that afternoon.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators then began scaling the six-foot-tall fence, completely bringing down the enclosure and took hold of Kresge Lawn, forming a human chain surrounding the encampment as organizers rushed in to rebuild tents and re-organize supplies.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators continued to hold the lawn for the rest of the day, and the situation de-escalated as the demonstrators maintained control of Kresge Oval well into the night. The encampment has remained on the lawn with no further interference and remains active as of this article’s publication.

The same day, Cambridge City Council passed a resolution urging “the City Manager and the administrators of MIT and Harvard to respect the rights of students to advocate for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.” As of January of this year and based on the results of a council vote, the City Council has officially adopted a ceasefire resolution for the Israeli intervention in Gaza.