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UC students urge Wheeler charges dropped

David Scharfenberg
Thursday October 17, 2002

About 60 pro-Palestinian UC Berkeley students and supporters gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall Wednesday calling on the university to drop conduct charges against 32 student activists who participated in the April 9 occupation of Wheeler Hall. 

Just across Sproul Plaza, pro-Israeli students said the relatively small gathering was evidence that the pro-Palestinian movement is losing steam. 

“They’ve lost their support,” said David Singer, co-chair of the Israel Action Committee, a student group. 

“Not at all,” responded Roberto Hernandez of Students for Justice in Palestine, arguing that poor publicity for the event had limited the turnout. 

Students and activists focused their speeches on the plight of Hernandez, one of 79 protesters who took over Wheeler Hall in April, calling on the nine-campus University of California to divest from Israel. 

The Alameda County District Attorney dropped criminal charges against the activists in June, but the university pursued separate conduct charges against the 41 students who took part. Nine have accepted a one-semester “stayed suspension,” essentially probation, leaving 32 to face student conduct hearings. 

Penalties range up to expulsion, though the administration is recommending nothing more than suspension. 

Hernandez’s student conduct hearing has begun, but is on hold until at least Oct. 28, when the courts will consider a lawsuit filed by the students’ lawyers that seeks to block the use of police reports and videos in conduct hearings. 

No other student hearings have started. 

Hernandez is one of a handful of students who were seniors when they took part in the April occupation of Wheeler Hall. The university has blocked diplomas for the former seniors until they go through the hearing process. 

Last year, Hernandez won acceptance to a UC Berkeley graduate program in comparative ethnic studies and has been attending classes this fall with the department’s permission. But he is not officially enrolled as a graduate student and has not received a fellowship that, he says, is his only substantial source of income. 

Hernandez said he faces eviction from student housing because he is unable to pay rent and is not officially a student. 

“I don’t even know where I’ll be this week,” said Hernandez, urging the university to provide his diploma and release the fellowship money. 

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said Hernandez’s economic situation is “unfortunate” but said the university has offered the student ample opportunity to resolve his case. 

Gilmore said Hernandez had the option to accept an informal resolution this summer. She added that university officials, in the second day of Hernandez’s conduct hearing Oct. 4, offered to work late into the night, but the student declined. 

Hernandez said he had a religious service to attend in San Jose that night and was not able to stay. He added that one of his attorneys was unable to remain on hand either. 

Singer, of the Israel Action Committee, said his group is spearheading a 20-campus effort called “Invest in Israel, Invest in Peace.” Donations will go toward building the Israeli infrastructure and funding education efforts. 

Singer declined to say how much money the campaign has raised but predicted thousands in eventual donations.