US Student Protest Movement Against Gaza Genocide Grows – Explainer 

Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University. (Photo: via @maryamalwan TW Page)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

The protest began with a handful of students who pitched their tents on the lawn of Columbia University in the early hours of Wednesday, April 17.

Columbia University declared on Monday that classes would be conducted online, following continued unrest on its New York campus, stemming from the recent arrest of pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

As tensions escalated on various university campuses across the United States, law enforcement authorities also arrested pro-Palestinian protesters at Yale University on Monday.

When did it begin?

The protest began with a handful of students who pitched their tents on the lawn of Columbia University in the early hours of Wednesday, April 17.

The Columbia encampment reportedly coincided with university President Minouche Shafik’s appearance at a Congress hearing on anti-semitism.

Anger however has been growing at the campus for months.

Just days after the October 7 military operation carried out by the Palestinian Resistance, students were reportedly doxed after they signed a statement expressing concern about Israel’s war on Gaza, describing the enclave as an “open-air prison.”

“The weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments, including the US government, which fund and staunchly support Israeli aggression, apartheid and settler-colonization,” the statement read.

The statement urged Columbia University “to stand firmly for accountability and end its ties with apartheid Israel, including discontinuing the Columbia Global Center in Tel Aviv and the Dual Degree Program with Tel Aviv University. The Columbia community must reassess its relationship with Israel in light of our core values of justice, peace, and human rights.”

In November, the university suspended the charters of student groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace after students reportedly held protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Why are the protests taking place?

Students are demanding that Columbia University divest from its financial holdings in firms that profit from the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

What are the students’ demands?

According to a statement from the Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, students are demanding the following:

  • Divest all finances, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine.
  • Complete transparency for all of Columbia’s financial investments.
  • Amnesty for all students and faculty disciplined or fired in the movement for Palestinian liberation.

What has happened so far?

The student protest encampment grew overnight, with hundreds of students showing up and setting up tents.

On Thursday, President Shafik advised that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been authorized to sweep the encampment and engage in mass arrests.

More than 100 protesters were detained, after officers swarmed the campus and cleared an encampment set up by students.

Students then moved to another lawn and started another encampment.

Shafik had reportedly told the NYPD in a letter that she had “determined that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University.”

The student movement said following the arrests “We will not stand for Columbia’s direct complicity in genocide and the targeting and arrest of its own students.”

The protest continues to grow with “hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members joining in the camp,” according to the Columbia Encampment Telegram channel.

Tents have been set up, providing food and support for each other, as well as holding teach-ins and having speakers address the students.

“We are chanting, singing, teaching, watching, praying, reading, debating, and breaking bread,” the students say.

The White House Weighs in:

In a statement from President Joe Biden on Sunday to mark the Jewish Passover, Biden said “Silence is complicity.”

“Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant Antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country,” he added.

Biden said his administration “will continue to speak out and aggressively implement the first-ever National Strategy to Counter antisemitism, putting the full force of the federal government behind protecting the Jewish community.”

His remarks reportedly came after reports emerged over the weekend of harassment of Jewish students on the Columbia University campus, according to Al Jazeera.

Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, also reportedly said in a statement:

“While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly Antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America.”

“And echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable. We condemn these statements in the strongest terms,” he added

Student Movement’s Response

In a statement on Sunday, the student movement reiterated: “We are student activists at Columbia calling for divestment from genocide.”

“We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us. At universities across the nation, our movement is united in valuing every human life,” the statement added.

“Our members have been misidentified by a politically-motivated mob. We have been doxxed in the press, arrested by the NYPD, and locked out of our homes by the university. We have knowingly put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funnelling our tuition dollars and grant funding into companies that profit from death.

“We demand our voices be heard against the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

“We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solitary being forges among students–Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black and pro-Paletinian classmates and colleagues who represent the full diversity of our country.

“We have been peaceful. We follow in the footsteps of the civil rights and anti-war movements in our quest for liberation.”

Latest from Columbia University Authorities

In a statement on Monday, the University President Minouche Shafik said “we need a reset.”

“Students across an array of communities have conveyed fears for their safety and we have announced additional actions we are taking to address security concerns,” Shafik stated.

She acknowledged that “there is a terrible conflict raging in the Middle East with devastating human consequences. I understand that many are experiencing deep moral distress and want Columbia to help alleviate this by taking action.”

“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view.”

“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday. Faculty and staff who can work remotely should do so; essential personnel should report to work according to university policy. Our preference is that students who do not live on campus will not come to campus,” Shafik added.

Shafik continued: “During the coming days, a working group of Deans, university administrators and faculty members will try to bring this crisis to a resolution.”

Some of the additional “actions” that the University is implementing include: “Increasing patrol strength … a total of 111 additional safety personnel” and “Enhanced perimeter security staffed by additional private security personnel.”

Reaction from other campuses

Yale University students have also begun a similar protest at the campus.

On Monday morning, several Yale students were arrested and later released, after being charged with a Class A misdemeanour, according to the Instagram page: @yalies4palestine

The New School University in NYC have begun occupying their campus.

‘No tuition for genocide’ is one of their slogans, along with “The more they try to silence us, the louder we will be.”

University of Michigan students on Monday also began Day 1 of their Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

The Tahrir Coalition is made up of 90+ student organisations “untied for the Tahrir (liberation) of Palestine at the University of Michigan,” according to the movement’s X page.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

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