Student pro-Palestine protests spread despite mass arrests

Police raid camps and gatherings at schools across the US

Students at George Washington University start protest camp to support Gaza

Students at George Washington University start protest camp to support Gaza
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Thursday marked a week since students at Columbia University in New York started a protest camp over the Gaza war and demands for the school to divest from companies connected to Israel's action in the Palestinian territories.

Leila Obeid, a Jordanian-American student at Barnard College, said she has been at the Columbia camp since last Wednesday and will not leave until the university meets the protesters' demands.

“We have negotiations going on with the university, with the administration, but we know that they're not in good faith," Ms Obeid said.

"And they continue to put their students at risk and continue to reprimand their students who are just here to advocate to stop sending weapons to murder Palestinians in Gaza."

The university's order to have police clear the first protest tents and arrest more than 100 people last week has inspired other schools across the US and around the world to open their own camps.

Activist Jill Stein, the Green Party's presidential candidate for this year's election, visited the Columbia camp on Thursday.

Speaking to The National, Ms Stein accused US President Joe Biden of handing “off the baton for commander-in-chief” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He basically passed it to Netanyahu and said, 'Do what you like and we will fund you. We will not draw any red lines. We will be here to apologise for you',” she said.

“This is essentially like handing off the responsibilities … to the incredibly reckless and endangering criminal government of Israel.”

The protests that have caused upheaval at so many colleges and universities across the US made their way to the nation’s capital on Thursday, with hundreds of students demonstrating in support of Palestine at George Washington University.

In the early hours, students set up protest tents on the school’s central lawn, a few blocks away from the State Department.

By midday, about 30 tents had been erected and students were chanting in support of Palestine.

Intifada, revolution, there is only one solution and it's free, free Palestine,” the crowd chanted as many waved flags and held posters denouncing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Students have called for their universities to back a ceasefire in Gaza and divest from companies with ties to Israel.

“We’re protesting apartheid and our demands are divestment,” one student, Josh, told The National.

The third-year student said he was not worried about being arrested or expelled like students at other schools.

“They can’t arrest all of us and they’re not going to,” he said. “It's happening nationwide across multiple universities.”

Eric Hirshfield, a former student of the university, told The National that he had stopped by to see what was happening.

Pro-Palestine protests at US universities – in pictures

Mr Hirshfield, who wore a yarmulke and said he was pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, called the protesters “mostly peaceful”.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable,” he said.

“This is America [and you have the] right to protest as long as you don’t infringe upon the rights of others, and they’re not – they’re actually being good. They let me pass.”

Mikkel Rockman, a third-year student at Columbia who served in the Israeli army, told The National that protesters only talk about Palestinian suffering by making Jews and Israel out to be the enemy, but “what that does is it causes more violent rhetoric”.

“They've kind of turned the word 'Zionist' into an insult," Mr Rockman said.

"They've dehumanised us in a way that if you support Israel, and you don't support what they're doing, then you shouldn't be talked to … everything you say is a lie."

The State Department, which has been dealing with staff resignations over the conflict, said Mr Biden's administration is intent on pursuing what is in the “best interest” for the country.

“Of course, we see what is happening there,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said.

“But we're also not naive to the fact that, when it comes to any of the foreign policy that we pursue, 100 per cent of the population is not going to agree with what we're trying to accomplish.

“We are clear-eyed in the fact that what we're trying to pursue is in the best interest for the American people and is in the best interest of the national security of the American people.”

In New York, Columbia students faced a looming deadline to negotiate with administrators on how to dismantle their camp.

Sueda Polat, who is part of the student negotiations team at the university, told The National that they refuse to engage in discussions with the university if facing threats of militarised violence.

“I will say that the university students who are here have demonstrated an incredible will and an incredible resolve and resilience to be in this space,” she said.

“And I will say that they're committed to remaining in this space until the demands are met through the negotiations process.”

Protests continue at Columbia University after pro-Palestine camp arrests – video

Protests continue at Columbia University after pro-Palestine encampment arrests

Protests continue at Columbia University after pro-Palestine encampment arrests

There have been calls nationally, including by House Speaker Mike Johnson on a Wednesday campus visit, for the National Guard to be sent in.

The university has denied it ever threatened to request the National Guard's presence.

Overnight, there were mass arrests reported at pro-Palestine camps and protest gatherings at three US schools.

More than 90 people were arrested at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the campus was closed after the protest.

The USC has faced backlash over a decision not to allow Muslim valedictorian Asna Tabassum to speak at her commencement.

The university also on Thursday announced that it would not hold its main commencement event, instead choosing to host smaller ceremonies at individual schools.

Almost 100 people were taken into police custody at Emerson College in central Boston, while more than 50 were arrested at the University of Texas in Austin.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 10:55 PM