top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Jewish or Journalist? A First Person, Hour-by-Hour Account of the UCSB Anti-Israel Building Occupation



By Lily Karofsky


I had two very distinct reactions when I discovered that anti-Israel protesters had occupied one of the main buildings on my college campus early Monday morning.


After they forced their way into UCSB's Girvetz Hall, intimidated maintenance staff into leaving, trashed the inside and outside of the building, and barricaded themselves in, part of me immediately reacted as a journalist who saw an incredible news story and a chance to be one of the first ones to get it.


Another, very real part of me, reacted as a Jewish student, who has been deeply involved in my Jewish community at UCSB, and the events that have transpired since the massacre carried out by Hamas against Israel last October 7th.


Over the past few days, as I witnessed a stunning series of events unfold on campus, these two, equally strong parts of me struggled for ascendancy.


Here is a report of what happened in real time:


Monday 7:15 p.m. Immediately, after hearing about what was happening, I drove to Girvetz Hall from Santa Barbara with a friend to take photos. I knew right away I wanted to document and write about this volatile event.


What I didn't know at the time was that the anti-Israel extremists were still in the building; I was under the impression it was an isolated act of protest, and assumed that they had returned to their encampment near the building, across from Davidson Library.


However, when I walked around the back of Girvetz, to see if there had been more damage done, I saw something that seemed straight out of a war movie: a group of the masked extremists were reinforcing their barricades and patrolling the building like a tiny military battalion.


I felt my stomach drop, and my arm get yanked as my friend pulled me behind a wall. Both of our faces went blank as we tried to grapple with the scene we saw. How was this real?


We also found a big janitorial broom snapped in half, resting next to a sign that read "Girvetz is closed due to Genocide."


How is this happening on our campus? Why are the police not already here?


Monday 7:30-8:50 p.m. We spent the next hour or so moving around the building, getting inside parts of it that were not blocked off, and listening to the occupiers through air vents.


The conversations we were able to overhear were disturbing, most of them along the lines of "Zionists deserve all of this" and describing the university as complicit in funding a "genocide."

We watched as the masked protesters rotated around the building, in what looked like well-organized shifts, taking turns on the roof with a megaphone chanting intimidatingly at the students below, some of whom were simply trying to get to their finals.


We also saw multiple walkie talkies and heard bird-like calls being used to signal certain information to one another. 


The barricades were mainly made up of chairs, black garbage bags, and tape. Local officials now assume these acted primarily as alarms if someone were to try to get in, rather than actual walls to keep people out as they wouldn't be hard to disassemble.


We also found metal zip ties outside one of the barricaded doors and handed these over to the police.


Monday 8:55- 9:15 p.m. As I was thinking about getting close to packing up and going home, because I didn't think I would see anything new for the rest of the night, another one of my friends, Ephraim Shalunov, rounded the side of the building, and I ran to catch up with him.


One of the first things he wanted to do was check out what was going on in the actual tent encampment that has been ongoing for months. We wondered if everyone had abandoned the encampment to go into the building or if their numbers had grown? If the former was true, how many people were actually left in the encampment?

 

As we approached, we were told "Camp is closed!" and told we would need "someone inside to vouch for us" if we wanted to enter. 


Regardless, we chose to enter the space and were immediately greeted by multiple cameras pushed in our faces and even more masked extremists calling us both out by name. These intimidation tactics were a weak attempt at making us uncomfortable and afraid. 


After a brief stroll and several more, highly unpleasant interactions, we circled back to the building and walked through one of the tunnels to get to the courtyard in the middle of Girvetz.


Monday 9:15 p.m. As we rounded the courtyard, we heard some yelling from the second-story windows of the building. Out of nowhere, green laser pointers shined on us. One was directed into Ephraim's eyes and another rested on my chest for multiple seconds. Thankfully, no severe damage was done.


However, California Penal Code, PEN § 417.27, states that, "No person shall direct the beam from a laser pointer directly or indirectly into the eye or eyes of another person," another addition to the multiple laws this group had already violated. Ephraim called the police.


Legalities aside, the emotions of feeling "tracked down" as a Jew were palpable, and we wanted these masked aggressors held accountable for their actions.


As Ephraim put it, these "thugs operate with impunity on our campus. They attempted to burn my eyes with a green laser, threatened to throw people off buildings, and chanted in support of Hamas. Jews are not safe."


While waiting for the police, I approached one of the first floor windows and knocked in an effort to get one of the protesters inside to come speak to me. To my surprise, they did. When asked what they were trying to accomplish, they said, "we want the school to admit it's a genocide" adding that throughout history, "this" is how things get done.


I can't help but wonder if the "this" in question aligned with the Arkansas National Guard blocking the Little Rock Nine from entering a public school in 1952, or the insurrectionists storming our nation's Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. People taking over or blocking buildings historically aren't the good guys.


Monday 9:30 p.m. A few moments later, police officers met us on the side of the library and took our statements. We handed over the zip ties.


We asked why law enforcement hadn't removed the protesters from the building yet, The police were helpful, and explained that at that time, they didn't have the manpower or orders to go in; the university was, of course, being very careful with how they handled the situation, to try to avoid escalation, or alienation on both sides.


Tuesday 12:15 p.m. The following afternoon, I returned to watch and wait for any changes to occur. I received a tip from another member of our community that the Regents had been in a meeting and planned to have a decision about how to proceed by 4 p.m., so I decided to wait.


For the rest of the afternoon, the masked extremists again took shifts rotating through the building and yelling antisemitic chants through a megaphone at students and staff passing by. 



Tuesday 5:50 p.m. I decided it was time to pack up for the day, as nothing new appeared to be happening. It seemed like university administrators still weren't sure where they stood.


Tuesday 11 p.m. I received word via a big community group chat that police had been spotted on campus and lots of cars and vans were heading towards Girvetz Hall.


I hadn't gone far, in case something like this occurred late, so thankfully I was only about five minutes away at a friend's house. I can't recall a time in my life I've gotten dressed and out of the house quicker than that night.


As we hurried back to campus, my heart started to race and my mind started to run in a million different directions. The conflicting emotions of being both a journalist and a Jewish activist had a tight grip on every part of me as I sprinted through the parking lot to get back to the scene.


By the time I got back, things were still pretty tame, although groups of students were beginning to gather to watch the spectacle. Also, the encampment was getting rowdier by the minute and groups of administrators huddled in groups, engaging in concerned, hushed conversations. 


I went down one of the side tunnels and saw that one of the barricaded doors had been thrown open. It looked like the barricade had been dismantled from the inside out. I asked the policeman posted at the door when this had happened and he didn't know. I immediately had a feeling that the  extremists had fled.



Wednesday 12:15 a.m. We knew the police were close by, but they were not yet in sight. We assumed that they were taking time to brief everybody and strategize before moving in.


In the next hour or so, the encampment continued to get rowdier and the crowd continued to grow. Their antisemitic chants were painful to experience, as were their multiple attempts to antagonize my friends and me, continually shoving cameras in our faces.


So frustrated were they by our presence, the protesters had 3 to 5 people following us around at all times, recording our every move and trying to intimidate us away from the camp.


It didn't work.


Wednesday 1:03 a.m. All of a sudden, everyone whipped out their phones, as UCSB sent out a mass text to the student body saying there was about to be a police raid at Girvetz Hall and cautioning everyone to stay away.


Of course, this only caused hundreds more students to descend and escalate the situation. If the school hadn't done this, the situation would have continued to be contained to members of the Jewish community and the extremist protesters; now the police had to deal with a much larger crowd, causing tensions to rise even more. 



Wednesday 1:06 a.m. Police cars and trucks poured from around the side of the building and the crowd sprinted over to get a good view of the scene. I made my way to the front and took photos and videos as the police got into position in front of the building.


Wednesday 1:45 a.m. Every time the police would move, the crowd would move with them, trying to watch the action. Police made their way into the building, and we watched from the outside as classroom lights were turned on, marking that that specific room had been cleared.


The police were in the building for around two hours. During this time, the encampment became the main hotspot and the crowd quickly shifted to focus their attention there, as they started a big drum circle, continuing their antisemitic chants. 


"From the River to the Sea/Palestine will be free!" they chanted.



I stayed by the building, hoping to get footage of the police dragging out anyone who was left inside, but my attention quickly got diverted to the encampment when I heard cries saying "Zionists are raiding our camp, Zionists are raiding our camp!"


I grabbed hold of one of my friends' hands as panic swept across both of our faces, imagining the worst. We both sprinted back to the encampment, shoving our way through the large crowd that had formed. As I pushed my way through, my brain couldn't help but imagine the worst and pray I wasn't about to see friend's bodies on the ground. 


When I finally barged my way past the wall of students, I found my friends engaged in a heated debate with one of the administrators, surrounded by extremists yelling in their faces.


Although still not a great thing to see, I felt relief in that moment, thinking of how bad the situation could have become. I pulled a friend aside to ask what happened, and he told me they were simply speaking with people inside the encampment when a group chased them out.


Once again, a disturbing display of antisemitism and how quickly propaganda can spread through a crowd. 


My friend Ephraim stated that, "this group of violent, criminal agitators was not engaging in peaceful protest. They were engaging in the targeted harassment of Jews, rallying under a banner that read 'Globalize the Intifada'" and intimidating innocent people.


When I walked past the encampment, a hundred of its occupants began to chant insults at me by name, while masked men surrounded me. A senior university administrator asked me to leave, because my very presence as a living, breathing, proud Jew was, in their word, ˜inflammatory."


Not one of the masked aggressors was impeded in any way.


Wednesday 3 a.m. After realizing there was in fact, no one left in the building, and there would be nothing else to capture that night, I returned to my friend's house to try to piece my story together and get some sleep.


UCSB then sent another school-wide text saying that the University of California Police Department "has concluded the large-scale police operation at Girvetz Hall. Law enforcement personnel will remain at the location. Resume normal activity."


Wednesday afternoon. At some point during the day, other sources confirmed the occupiers had in fact fled the building prior to police arriving.


This seemed laughable, considering their one consistent statement was that they would only exit the building willingly if the school released a statement saying the situation is a genocide.


In other words, they specifically did the one thing they swore not to because the situation got a little too real for them to handle.


As for our Jewish community, we are more connected and stronger than ever following the events of the past few days. We will continue to stand tall and united.


We always do against rising antisemitism in a place that should feel safe to everyone. 


Lily Karofsky is a Jewish-American student who majored in journalism at SBCC before transferring to UCSB, where she is studying Communications. A member of UCSB Hillel, she works actively to bring awareness to rising antisemitism on college campuses.


All photos by Lily Karofsky.


Karofsky may be reached at: lilykarofsky@gmail.com.


 

1,223 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page