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UW-Milwaukee, protesters reach agreement to end pro-Palestinian encampment

UW-Milwaukee encampment had grown to around 40 tents over the past 2 weeks

A pro-Palestinian tent encampment is seen here at UW-Milwaukee on Monday, May 13, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

The pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will end this week after protesters reached a deal with the university ahead of upcoming graduation ceremonies.

Student activists set up the encampment two weeks ago on a lawn near the UWM Student Union in protest of Israel’s war in Gaza. The students were calling on the university to divest from all Israeli institutions and Israel-aligned companies. 

“After hard fought edits and careful consideration by the coalition, we determined that we had obtained all possible benefits from our encampment,” said a Sunday statement from the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition.

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The deal comes days after a similar agreement was struck with protesters at UW-Madison. It also comes days before commencement ceremonies this weekend in Milwaukee.

A statement from UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone said protesters have agreed to dismantle their tents by 8 a.m. Tuesday. Mone said the agreement also includes “assurances that those involved will not disrupt UWM’s upcoming commencement ceremonies.” 

Pro-Palestinian supporters set up a tent on the lawn of the UW-Milwaukee campus on Monday, April 29, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

If those demands are met, Mone said the university will not hand out any citations or conduct violations to students who were involved in the encampment.

“I’m grateful that the ongoing dialogue with our students has resulted in this peaceful resolution,” Mone said in the statement. “I want to extend my personal thanks to everyone who played a role in the process. The voluntary dismantling of the encampment is the safest conclusion for everyone.” 

Much like the encampment at UW-Madison and other protests across the nation, protesters have been calling for UW-Milwaukee officials to disclose how it invests its endowment, and to end investments in Israeli companies or those whose products have been used in service of the Israeli military.

The deal the university struck with protesters said the university will organize a meeting between student representatives and the UWM Foundation to discuss their demands. That meeting has been set for Tuesday morning. 

“UWM administrators will attend and ensure that students will be given the opportunity to express their requests for disclosure and divestment,” the university statement said. 

Students march outside of the UW-Milwaukee campus during a pro-Palestinian rally on Monday, April 29, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

The agreement also said The Water Council — a nonprofit focused on water quality which Mone serves as the treasurer for — has “officially ceased relationships and cut all ties with both Mekorot and Israel Innovation Authority, two Israeli-government-owned water companies.”

The university statement said those companies have been accused of “cutting off access to drinking water for thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, exacerbating water scarcity.”

“These are serious concerns that Chancellor Mone addressed with the Water Council president. At the Chancellor’s urging, the Water Council no longer has relationships with these entities, and they have been removed from the global listing on the Water Council’s website,” the statement said. 

A statement from The Water Council communications manager Stacy Vogel Davis said the council “supports the United Nations’ call for access to water and sanitation as a human right available to all people.”

“We will continue to work toward our mission of solving critical water challenges by driving freshwater technology innovation and advancing water stewardship so that all people can have access to clean, abundant freshwater,” the statement said.

The agreement also noted UW-Milwaukee doesn’t have any active study abroad programs in Israel.

A black sign in the grass reads "Civil Rights Act (checkmark, End Vietnam War (checkmark), End apartheid in South Africa (checkmark), Free Palestine, almost there!" Behind the sign are tents and lawn chairs with people scattered about.
UW-Milwaukee students, staff and faculty protest in an encampment for a second day in support of Palestinian statehood on April 30, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

In response to the deal Monday, Audari Tamayo, a member of the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition, said they still have more work to do.

“The struggle is not over,” Tamayo said. “We’re simply shifting our focus and changing our tactics.” 

Ameen Atta, a board member of the UW-Milwaukee Muslim Student Association and member of the coalition, echoed that sentiment. 

“It’s a resounding victory for the overall student movement, locally and nationally,” Atta said. “I think it’s a testament to, when students come together, when the power of the people come together, that change can happen.”

Organizers said they met university officials three times last week to discuss their demands. They didn’t rule out the possibility of more protests and a possible future encampment on campus if the university doesn’t agree to future demands. 

“We’re going into this meeting with the intentions of full disclosure and if we don’t get that, we’re going to keep going,” Tamayo said about the Tuesday meeting.

Zaid Dahir, a junior at UW-Milwaukee and a representative for the Milwaukee Muslim Student Association, leads a Pro-Palestinian march outside of the UW-Milwaukee campus on Monday, April 29, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

The encampment was set up during a protest on campus on April 29, with about 40 tents surrounded by tables set up as a perimeter. Although police and students clashed at the encampment at UW-Madison, UWM leadership did not call on police to clear the tents at the Milwaukee campus.

“I don’t think that our tiny inconveniences are anything in comparison to the people that we’re fighting for,” Atta said during a press conference Monday morning. 

The encampment was mostly quiet Monday morning, as organizers said many students were busy taking finals. Several tents were still set up.

“We set this camp up in a minute. Taking it down is easy. But what we’re doing after this is continuing the fight,” Tamayo said. “Just because it’s summer break, doesn’t mean we’re taking a break.”