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Students Protest Israel’s War in Gaza at 50 U.S., Canadian and British Universities

Students are protesting against Israel’s brutal war in Gaza in demonstrations at nearly 50 American, Canadian and British universities and demanding that their universities cut all links with Israel.

America’s NBC television network said there were pro-Palestine protest encampments at more than 40 university campuses across the United States and Canada. These included institutions such as the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles; Northwestern University, in Illinois; George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.; the University of Michigan; Brown University, in Rhode Island; Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At Emory University, in Atlanta, a video showed one prominent faculty member being arrested by the police. “I am Noelle McAfee, chair of Emory University’s Philosophy Department,” she said. “Kindly contact the Philosophy Department and inform them that I have been arrested.”

Following her release, McAfee said in a television interview: “I first saw a young protester thrown to the ground by officers, who were pummeling them, just pummeling and pummeling. The mother in me said ‘Stop, stop.’ And I made sure to stand four feet away from them, standing still, nonconfrontational. I said, ‘ Stop.’ One of the cops stood up and got right in front of me and said, ‘Ma’am, you need to step back, you need to step back.’ I was watching them pummelling somebody, I said, ‘No.’ And they arrested me.”

Emil Keme, a professor of English and indigenous studies at Emory, also described the scene in a television interview: “I felt like I was in a war zone when I witnessed the police forces in full gear. They swiftly dismantled and destroyed all the tents and forcibly removed students. I experienced the effects of tear gas and clung to someone’s arm as we were pushed away from the camp. The student whose arm I held was later arrested. Suddenly, I found myself on the ground, detained. It was a horrible and surreal experience, really unacceptable,” he said.

Columbia U. Senate Calls for Investigation

Columbia University, in New York, is at the forefront of the protests after the university’s president, Nemat (Minouche) Shafik, summoned the police to disperse demonstrating students. Just over a week ago, over 100 individuals were arrested and tents were cleared from a central lawn on the university’s Upper Manhattan campus, but the protesters promptly rebuilt a new tent encampment on an adjacent lawn.

Reuters reported that the Columbia University Senate had approved a resolution on Friday saying that by calling in the police, Shafik’s administration had “compromised academic freedom and disregarded the rights to privacy and due process of students and faculty members”.

The senate said Shafik’s decision raised “significant concerns regarding the administration’s commitment to shared governance and transparency in the university’s decision-making process.”

The Columbia University Senate is a 111-member body comprised of 65 faculty members and 25 students, plus smaller numbers of administrators, trustees, alumni, and research officers. The resolution approved on Friday did not mention Shafik by name and tried to avoid accusatory language, but approved the creation of a working group to examine the school’s leadership.

Ben Chang, a spokesman for Columbia University, said the administration was dedicated to dialogue to restore calm to the campus.

Mahmoud Khalil, a member of a student team negotiating with administrators on ending the demonstrations, said in a television interview on Saturday that students would not back down from their demand to “sever economic and academic ties with Israeli occupation universities and companies contributing to the Palestinian tragedy.” He added that the university had suggested it might pardon the students who were arrested and suspended if some of the protest tents were removed.

Other U.S. Universities 

According to the Associated Press, the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, has cancelled its main graduation ceremony, set for May 10, because of safety concerns over protests. The university had already cancelled a commencement speech by the school’s pro-Palestinian valedictorian.

Demonstrations were also taking place on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, where hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters set up an encampment on Thursday. Jewish students planned a counter-protest on Sunday, the KTLA television station reported.

Elsewhere in California, officials of California State Polytechnic University extended the closure of the Humboldt campus until May 10, the end of term, saying instruction would continue remotely. Pro-Palestinian protesters have barricaded themselves inside two university buildings at the northern California campus since Monday, 22 April.

In Columbus, Ohio, police arrested 36 protesters at Ohio State University who refused to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment outside the student union on Thursday evening, The Columbus Dispatch reported. 

Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, changed its student code of conduct on Thursday to bar tents on its campus after students began setting up an encampment there. In a statement released Thursday night, university officials said they were negotiating with protest leaders over removing the tents. No arrests had been made.

In Washington, D.C., students at George Washington University set up a tent encampment on Thursday on the school’s University Yard, blocks away from the White House. Students and professors from Georgetown University joined them later in the day, and the number of protesters grew to about 500 people at one point, The Washington Post reported. George Washington University threatened to take disciplinary action against protesters who did not leave the area by 7 p.m. Friday, but the deadline passed without incident. The protesters were demanding that the university end all relations with Israel and lift a suspension against a pro-Palestinian student group.

At New York University, in Lower Manhattan, an encampment set up by students swelled to hundreds of protesters earlier this week. Police said on Wednesday that 133 protesters had been taken into custody. All were later released but must appear in court on disorderly conduct charges.

According to CBS News, students protesting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology want the school to cut research ties with the Israeli military, while Harvard University tried to head off protests on its campus by closing Harvard Yard. A sign posted on its gates said: “Structures, including tents and tables, are not permitted in the Yard without prior permission.” Students who violated the policy would be subject to disciplinary action, it said.

The protests have sparked significant political responses. U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, wrote on her X account: “I had the honour of seeing the Columbia University anti-war encampment first-hand. Contrary to right-wing attacks, these students are joyfully protesting for peace and an end to the genocide taking place in Gaza. I’m in awe of their bravery and courage.”

Canada and the United Kingdom

In Canada, CBC News reported that students had set up a camp at Montreal’s McGill university demanding that McGill and partner Concordia University “divest from funds implicated in the Zionist state” and sever any links with Israeli universities. Protesters at McGill also staged a hunger strike for Palestine.

In Britain, Saturday’s weekly pro-Palestinian march through London was led by Stephen Kapos, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who lost 15 relatives at Auschwitz. Kapos told The Times newspaper, “It is not antisemitic to protest against Israel.”

Students at the Universities of Warwick and Edinburgh and University College London also organised occupations demanding that their universities divest from companies involved in arming Israel and commit to helping to rebuild universities and schools in Gaza that have been damaged or destroyed.

Palestinian and Arab Interaction

Palestinian students in Gaza are closely monitoring the protests in the United States and globally. 

Ezzeddine Lulu, a medical student from northern Gaza, shared a video message addressing the protesting students, saying: “As a university student still in northern Gaza who has lost family, home, and university, I stand in solidarity with the courageous students protesting against genocide. Your voices are powerful, and your fight for justice is vital. Don’t give up. The world needs your courage and commitment to raising awareness and demanding change. I recognise your strength. Keep fighting for what is right. Remember, your voices matter.”

Hany Genena, a lecturer at the School of Business Administration at the American University in Cairo, posted in Arabic on his Facebook account:

“It’s remarkable that these universities are among the top-league institutions, meaning these students and professors possess analytical skills well above average. They’ve come to this conviction despite the billions spent on promoting the narrative of occupation and the G7 … that Palestine must achieve freedom, and what’s occurring is ethnic cleansing. Undoubtedly, this moment is unlike any other, and regardless of how it concludes, whether there’s more hardship or not, there’s hope for a positive outcome, God willing.”

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