By Brian Zayatz and Jason Kotoch
Two pro-Palestinian protests drew hundreds of people in Amherst and Northampton on Wednesday — the latest in a series of demonstrations as more than 5,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza after an Oct. 7 Hamas offensive that killed more than 1,400 inside Israel.
At UMass Amherst, the school said that police arrested 57 people late Wednesday night into Thursday morning after occupying the offices of UMass Chancellor Javier Reyes as part of a “National Palestine Solidarity Student Walkout.” Approximately 500 students and community supporters met outside the UMass Student Union Building for a rally and march to the Whitmore Building. There, students demanded that Chancelor Reyes cut ties with weapons manufacturers like Raytheon and that “UMass condemn the Israeli massacre of Palestinians and condemn the blockade on Gaza.”
And in Northampton, hundreds attended a march to L3 Harris, a weapons manufacturer with a facility in the city. That protest came almost two weeks after activists locked themselves to trailers and a large boat to blockade L3 Harris’ entrance. Five were arrested in that protest.
As of Tuesday, the Gazan Health Ministry reported that 5,791 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombing campaign, including at least 704 in the past day, according to the Associated Press. Another 16,297 people have been wounded, the Gazan Health Ministry said. Israeli tanks entered Gaza briefly on Thursday as Israel prepared for a likely ground invasion of the enclave, The New York Times reported. United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres called for a ceasefire, describing “epic suffering” in Gaza that he said amounted to Israel’s “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Amid the continuing violence, protests have occurred at busy roundabouts and elsewhere across the Connecticut River Valley this month.
“A multi-billion dollar corporation that creates weapons to kill people has no place on my college campus,” Arsema Kifle, a junior at UMass, told The Shoestring at Wednesday’s demonstration at the university.
The protest and sit-in were organized by UMass Dissenters, UMass Arab Cultural Association, UMass Black Student Union, UMass Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, UMass Prison Abolition Collective and UMass Students for Justice in Palestine.
Last fall, UMass Dissenters began protesting the Isenberg School of Management’s connection with Raytheon Technologies, now called RTX Technologies after a merger with United Technologies Corporation. The company has long worked with Israel on technology like the Iron Dome, and earlier this week its CEO claimed the company stood to “benefit” from the United States’ intention to supply Israel and Ukraine with more weaponry.
“I think really across the entire Raytheon portfolio, you’re going to see a benefit of this restocking,” CEO and Chairman Greg Hayes said during an earnings call. “On top of what we think is going to be an increase in DOD top line.”
The hallways inside the Whitmore Building were lined with students Wednesday afternoon who demanded to speak with Reyes to deliver demands in person. Activists said that Reyes did not meet with students who chanted “Gaza must have food and water, Israel stop the slaughter” while holding signs and waving Palestinian flags.
In a statement sent to The Shoestring, UMass’s Executive Director of Strategic Communications Ed Blaguszewski said that “the protestors’ specific demands do not align with the university’s publicly stated positions and policies,” outlined in an Oct. 10 statement.
“In advance of a planned sit-in in the Whitmore Administration Building … students notified several administrators of their plan to occupy the building until its closing, at which point some students intended to be arrested,” Blaguszewski said. “The university counseled students against this, expressing that being arrested was not in their best interest.”
University police arrived at Whitmore and announced that the building would close at 6:00 p.m. and that any students who refused to leave would face arrest.
Ruya Hazeyen, a Palestinian UMass senior and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said that UMass is complicit in genocide occuring in Palestine.
“UMass has a close partnership with Raytheon, there is a direct pipeline from the school of business and engineering to Raytheon,” Hazeyen said. “That means UMass is complicit and we demand that UMass end all ties to Raytheon.”
At approximately 5:45 p.m., UMPD cruisers arrived while dozens of protesters remained inside the Whitmore Building with legal aid phone numbers written on their arms with black markers.
Lieutenant Brian Henault of UMPD entered the building with other officers and addressed those remaining in the building, informing them that the building closed at 6:00 p.m. and that anyone remaining would be subject to arrest for criminal trespassing.
Shortly after 6 p.m., a UMPD prisoner transport van arrived and police made the first five arrests. Arrests continued in small batches until after midnight. The university said that campus police eventually arrested 56 UMass Amherst students and one university employee.
In Northampton on Wednesday afternoon, hundreds attended a march to L3 Harris, a weapons manufacturer with a facility in the city. The rally of community members was organized by Berkshire Communists, Demilitarize Western MA, the Anti-Imperialist Action Committee and Palestine Action US to coincide with a walkout by Smith College students, led by the college’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter.
As about a hundred community members left from Veterans’ Field on the sidewalk of Rt. 66, hundreds of Smith students marched down the opposite sidewalk, with both parties leading chants. More people joined along the half-mile route to L3 Harris.
L3 Harris declined to comment for this story.
Paige Belanger, of Berkshire Communists, said the organizers hadn’t expected the rally to draw so many people.
Upon arrival to the intersection in front of the facility, organizers struggled to keep the massive crowd on the sidewalks, covering all four corners of the intersection, while leading chants of “L3 Harris, you can’t hide/we charge you with genocide.” L3 Harris employees stood watching from the facility’s windows.
Organizers then led the march to a nearby hill to hear a series of speakers.
One of the speakers — Sonya Epstein, an “anti-Zionist Jew” who was arrested for “disturbing the peace” during the blockade of L3 Harris earlier this month — said the goal of that action had been to do something that would slow down or stop work at the facility even for a short time.
Epstein went on to say that a company that “profits off the murder of children” has been allowed to exist in Northampton for too long. She challenged the crowd to “look at what is in your backyard” and to “do anything in your power to prevent even one death.”
The rally ended with a call to join an action on Friday at 4:30 p.m. outside U.S. Rep Jim McGovern’s Northampton office, calling for no more U.S. weapons to Israel and U.S. troops out of the Middle East.
Brian Zayatz is an editor of The Shoestring. Jason Kotoch is a photographer and videographer living in western Mass.
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