The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Pro-Palestine supporters organize on Pentacrest for three-day solidarity event

The event comes after encampments and student protests across college campuses nationwide.
Ryan Paris
Attendees listen to a reading during a three-day solidarity event on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, May 3, 2024. This demonstration was organized by the Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine.

Nearly 100 pro-Palestine protesters amassed on the Pentacrest Friday, starting day one of a three-day event in solidarity for student encampments across college campuses in the U.S.

Led by activist group Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine –– an organization that is unaffiliated with the UI –– protesters participated in discussions, prayer, an art build, and formed a protest led by Iowans for Palestine.

Attendees made signs and posters reading “Free Palestine” and “Stop Funding Genocide” ahead of the protest during the art build.

Clara Reynen, the media liaison for Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine, said the group is demanding divestment and disclosure of the UI from companies aiding the state of Israel.

“We are here to help people educate and empower themselves to talk more in-depth about these demands,” Reynen said. “I think it is important that students have the ability to demand more from their universities, even if that means camping overnight or for weeks.”

Attendees gather for the Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine three-day solidarity event on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, May 3, 2024 (Emma Calabro/The Daily Iowan)

Following Columbia University’s response to a pro-Palestinian encampment — which resulted in more than 100 arrests after university officials called in the New York Police Department — similar protests and encampments have spread across college campuses in the U.S.

Nationwide arrests of protesters total over 2,000 at dozens of college campuses since police first cleared the encampment at Columbia University in mid-April, according to a tally by the Associated Press updated May 2.

Iowa State Patrol officers, University of Iowa Police, and Iowa City Police Department officers patrolled and monitored the Pentacrest throughout the day Friday, but otherwise did not engage with the activities or with protesters.

Kate Margheim, a UI fourth-year student, said the arrests at colleges around the U.S. are pointless because they won’t deter protesters.

“It just shows that they are on the violent side of history that is trying to silence protest,” Margheim said. “Everybody has the right to protest. I think people show their true colors when they tried to shut things like that down — when they tried to shut off people’s voices.”

Reynen said it is nerve-wracking knowing there will be police present and that they have to be prepared for law enforcement at protests.

“I think it is important that we watch out for each other,” Reynen said.

Attendees make zines for the Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine three-day solidarity event on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, May 3, 2024 (Emma Calabro)

Protesting every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on the Pentacrest, UI students and Iowa City residents have been calling for a ceasefire since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, 2023.

This Friday was no different; Iowans for Palestine demonstrated, reading a portion of one of the open letters issued to the university this fall reiterating their call for a ceasefire and university divestment from Israeli companies.

Newman Abuissa, chair of the Arab American Caucus in the Iowa Democratic Party and member of Iowans for Palestine, spoke to the crowd, with many Iowa City high school students present. Abuissa said now is a time for revolution for young people.

“We know that people are revolting against the policies that we have to support the state of Israel blindly,” Abuissa said. “We don’t question their apartheid. We don’t question their massacres. We keep sending them money. We keep sending them bombs.”

Protesters then proceeded to march into downtown Iowa City, chanting “Free, free Palestine.”

A social media post by Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine on April 30 said the event is not intended to be an encampment, but rather a three-day solidarity event to reiterate demands for divestment to UI.

Reynen said the event is not an encampment and was never going to be.

On Friday morning before the protests, the UI placed signs about campus policy on and around the Pentacrest. The signs included practices for engaging in free speech on campus and discouraged violations, such as blocking entrances, vandalizing property, and engaging in physical violence.

Reynolds: “We will be ready”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state will not allow “destruction” or “hate speech” at the event slated this weekend.

“We’re going to just get in front of it. We’re going to be respectful, and as long as [protesters] abide by the laws and do it peacefully, then great,” Reynolds said to reporters following a bill signing on Wednesday. “But if it crosses that line, we will be ready. We’re not going to let it go.”

While the first day remained peaceful, event organizers spoke against Reynolds’ comments and perspective. Reynen said politicians haven’t approached rhetoric around the Israel-Hamas war with respect.

“We live in a state where the governor and many politicians have made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in protecting Palestinians, and they have no interest in holding the State of Israel accountable for what I truly believe one day will be considered heinous war crimes,” Reynen said.

The Palestinian flag waves during a three-day solidarity event on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, May 3, 2024. This demonstration was organized by the Iowa City Students for Justice in Palestine. (Ryan Paris)

Democrats said considerations for students’ free speech rights and facilitating a marketplace of ideas is important, but safety should be a priority.

“I think students have a right to free speech and people should have their voices heard,” Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “I also think that as long as the first priority is everyone’s safety, events like this really benefit the community.”

Iowa Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, joined the protest on the Pentacrest Friday afternoon.

“To me, it’s really a free speech issue and they sound like they’ve done a great job of organizing a welcoming event,” Weiner said. “We have a long tradition of protesting and free speech here in Iowa City and at the University of Iowa, and this is an important issue.”

Biden breaks silence 

Breaking his silence on the issue, President Joe Biden condemned the violence on college campuses in a press conference on May 2 in Washington, D.C.

“Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is,” Biden said in the press conference. “It’s against the law when violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest.”

In response to a shouted question by a reporter asking if he thinks the National Guard should intervene in campus protests, Biden said “no.”

Biden also said hate speech, antisemitism, threats of violence against Jewish students, or violence of any kind have no place on any college campus. He said antisemitism, Islamophobia, and discrimination against Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans are “simply wrong” and “un-American.”

“I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions,” Biden said. “In America, we respect the right and protect the rights for them to express that, but it doesn’t mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without distraction, without hating, and within the law.”

Liam Halawith contributed to this report. 

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About the Contributors
Shreya Reddy
Shreya Reddy, News Reporter
Shreya Reddy is a freshman at the University of Iowa. Coming from a small town in Kansas, Shreya is double majoring in English and Political Science on the Pre-Law track. Before coming to the Daily Iowan, she has written for her neighborhood magazine and her schools literary magazine as well as writing an investigative journalism piece.
Roxy Ekberg
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.