Sunday 21 July 2024
Arrest and harassment:

US intensifies crackdown on pro-Gaza protests in universities

American universities are witnessing crackdown amid a surge in tensions between pro-Palestinian student protesters and school administrators, resulting in the cancellation of in-person classes and the subsequent arrest of demonstrators.


The drive comes in as administrations of the world institutions succumb to the pressure from pro-Israeli groups and far right politicians, as student protests continue around the United States.


The demonstrations, which started a week ago at Columbia University with a sizable crowd of protesters setting up a "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" on campus, have now expanded to various other universities such as Yale, MIT, and more.


Harvard University suspended its Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee on Monday following a period of administrative repression, harassment, and intimidation by conservative politicians and donors.


The committee was ordered to halt all organizational activities for the remainder of the term, or face permanent expulsion, following an unregistered demonstration they held last week.


Mimi Elias, a social work student who was arrested, told AFP on Monday: "We are going to stay until they talk to us and listen to our demands."


"We don't want Antisemitism or Islamophobia. We are here for the liberation of all," Elias said.


Classes transitioned to an online format at the Columbia University, as university president Nemat Shafik emphasized the need for a "reset" in a letter addressed to the school community, after complaints from some Zionist students against protests that are urging the institution to stay away from companies with ties to Israel.


"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," Shafik said.


The previous week also saw over 100 demonstrators being detained at the Columbia University, following the intervention of law enforcement by university officials on the private grounds on Thursday, a decision that appeared to heighten tensions and lead to a larger gathering during the weekend.


According to Joseph Howley, a classics associate professor at Columbia University, the involvement of the police was an erroneous approach, as it inadvertently drew in "more radical elements" that were not originally associated with student protests.


"You can't discipline and punish your way out of prejudice and community disagreement," Howley told AFP.


Mohammad Khalil, an activist from Columbia University, urged his school to stop funding war-related industries.


“The university should do something about the genocide that’s happening in Gaza. They should stop investing in this genocide that our people are now suffering from,” said Khalil.


At the New York University, police detained protesters who had set up their own encampment, the New York Times reported, after the school called the students' behavior "disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing."


Helga Tawil-Souri, a professor at the New York University, stated that school officials provided contradictory explanations for the enforcement against pro-Palestine protesters.


“When they brought in the police – hundreds of policemen in riot gear – they charged us with trespassing, though we are NYU faculty and students. I don’t know how we trespass on our own campus but that was the charge against us,” she told Al Jazeera.


“I’ve been a professor at NYU for 20 years. I’ve never seen a crackdown of this nature and such an over-the-top response by campus security and then on the part of the NYPD (New York Police Department)," Tawil-Souri said.


"It is reflective of attempts across the country to crack down on what is being called pro-Palestine speech.”


The activist group Within our Lifetime said police then “arrested all faculty who were protecting students at the encampment”.


Protests also took place at MIT, the University of Michigan, and Yale, resulting in the arrest of at least 47 individuals on Monday for their refusal to disperse upon request.

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