“A Glorious Fight,” Columbia’s Gaza Solidarity Encampment: A Timeline
May 03 2024
blog Series: 

Columbia University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter has shifted the course of the student movement’s solidarity with Gaza. This follows the Israeli regime’s latest genocidal campaign — an ongoing attack that has killed over 42,000 Palestinians and left more than 80,000 severely injured.

Columbia SJP established an encampment at 4:00 A.M. on Wednesday, April 17. In a statement posted on Instagram, Columbia SJP expressed that “students have taken back [Columbia’s] campus in the spirit of the ‘68 occupation of Hamilton Hall (when students protested the university’s affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses, a weapons research think that) establishing the Gaza Solidarity Camp on East Butler Lawn.”

DAY 1: April 17, 2024

According to an Instagram post by the student organization, within six hours of establishing the encampment, the Columbia University administration mobilized the New York Police Department (NYPD) against the participating students and barricaded entrances to the encampment. 

Columbia SJP then called on community members to protect the encampment, deliver food, contribute artwork and pro-Palestine signs, Venmo the organization funds for potential legal fees and supplies, and email Columbia professors using a premade template.

On the first day of encampment, SJP members reportedly overheard Columbia administrators planning to activate the sprinkler system to force students off the lawn they were occupying. Additionally, Columbia students were reportedly told by the administration that they must vacate the encampment by 11:00 A.M. on the same day.  NYPD officers stationed themselves at the university gates in an attempt to deter non-students from entering campus and joining the encampment.

“We set up this encampment today because Columbia University has continually refused to listen to the student body when we demand that they divest from the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” expressed a student organizer with SJP Columbia in a recorded statement shared on Instagram by SJP Columbia and New York’s chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM).

“We have tried referendums, we have tried peacefully protesting — at every turn, they (university officials) have violated their policies to crack down, and so we decided that an escalation was necessary because we refuse to have this go on for any longer,” the student said.

“We decided to have this encampment here today because it's the same day that our university president testified in front of Congress, throwing all of us under the bus, bragging about the fact that she has suspended students, that she has cracked down on pro-Palestine activism to an unprecedented degree,” the statement continued.

“And we wanted to, in fact, shift the focus away from this political theater [and] back to the situation in Gaza and to our demands. The reason why we’ve been doing this and why this movement has grown exponentially in the first place is for the people in Palestine. We will not back down no matter how many Congressional hearings they hold.”

DAY 2: April 18, 2024

The following day, Columbia SJP issued a call to action on Instagram, informing their followers that the NYPD had been overheard planning to arrest student protestors. The post urged all community members to gather at 116th and Broadway and “stay as long as possible to protect the students.” 20 minutes later, hundreds of Columbia students had gathered around the lawn “to protect the Gaza Solidarity Encampment from mass arrest,” stated an Instagram post from Columbia SJP.

On April 18, at 4:00 A.M., 19 hours into the encampment, students unanimously voted to stay overnight, despite threats of suspension from university administration. This reaffirmed their determination to remain until Columbia divests from the Israeli apartheid regime.

That same day, National Students for Justice in Palestine reported on Instagram that police had entered the campus with “zip ties and paddy wagons,” while also surrounding nearby streets.

Despite heightened police presence, after 26 hours of the encampment’s establishment, Columbia University caved and agreed to one of the demands of the student body: complete financial transparency regarding investments. Columbia SJP insisted that, despite this victory, they would not leave until Columbia fully divested from Israel.

The NYPD persisted in its siege of the camp on the second day, with the Strategic Response Group (an NYPD task force specializing in counter-terrorism) violently arresting at least five organizers outside of the university’s gates.

Columbia SJP reported on the second day of the encampment that a student organizer, along with two other Barnard students, had been suspended and evicted from university-owned housing due to their involvement in the encampment.

“This is Maryam from Columbia SJP. As of a few minutes ago, I received notice from Barnard administration that I have been suspended for my involvement in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” began a video posted to Columbia SJP’s Instagram.

“This [comes] after months of the Barnard administration specifically targeting me as a member of SJP. I want to make it very clear to [the] Columbia administration and Barnard administration that I refused to be silenced in my demand for divestment, and I will remain vocally opposed to the genocide in Gaza. I know that, when Palestine is free, Barnard and Columbia will look back at this moment and capitalize on the legacy of their student activists, as they always do. We will not allow for this to be co-opted when that time comes.”

Following Maryam’s arrest and release from jail, she said that “this has only strengthened [her] commitment to the movement for Palestinian liberation.”

Later that same day, Columbia SJP called for an emergency encampment picket upon discovering that NYPD prison buses had been parked outside of Columbia’s campus. They reported that Columbia University had summoned  the police to “violently arrest peaceful protesters for divestment from genocide.” Columbia SJP also reported that legal observers had been forcibly removed.

By 1:28 P.M., Minouche Shafik, the President of Columbia University, sent the following email to the student body:

“This morning, I had to make a decision that I hoped would never be necessary. I have always said that the safety of our community was my top priority and that we needed to preserve an environment where everyone could learn in a supportive context,” the email began.

“Out of an abundance of concern for the safety of Columbia's campus, I authorized the New York Police Department to begin clearing the encampment from the South Lawn of Morningside campus that had been set up by students in the early hours of Wednesday morning.”

Shafik went on to cite the supposed need for police due to a violation of Columbia University policy by pro-Palestine, anti-genocide students:

“I took this extraordinary step because these are extraordinary circumstances. The individuals who established the encampment violated a long list of rules and policies. Through direct conversations and in writing, the university provided multiple notices of these violations, including a written warning at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, notifying students who remained in the encampment as of 9:00 p.m. that they would face suspension pending investigation. We also tried through a number of channels to engage with their concerns and offered to continue discussions if they agreed to disperse.”

Shafik then shifted blame onto the pro-Palestine students who were being arrested, alleging that they had created the circumstances that resulted in their arrests:

“I regret that all of these attempts to resolve the situation were rejected by the students involved. As a result, NYPD officers are now on campus, and the process of clearing the encampment is underway.”

Shafik also referenced Columbia’s legacy as a campus with a rich history of student organizing, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a “balance” to uphold free speech rights while ensuring the smooth functioning of university proceedings. She claimed that the encampment created a “harassing and intimidating environment.”.

Shafik ended her mass email with a reaffirmation of Columbia’s supposed commitment to academic freedom and political expression.

On the same day, the PYM posted a video of police entering the liberation encampment and arresting students en masse.

As police raided the encampment, they issued a warning to the students who had formed a circle with interlocked arms at the center of the lawn: “You will be arrested and charged with trespassing. This is the New York City Police Department. You are participating in an unauthorized encampment.” As police commenced arrests, student protestors chanted for divestment. The protestors were then loaded onto prisoner transport vehicles while onlookers chanted “Free them all.”

Columbia University Apartheid Divest reported that starting at 1:27 P.M. on April 18, over 100 people were forcibly arrested, including at least three legal observers. Columbia University Apartheid Divest also noted that students had taken over the West Lawn in protest. Subsequently, students mobilized on the East Lawn as well, in solidarity with their fellow organizers who were being arrested.

Following the arrests, Columbia DPS and administration began clearing the encampment under the supervision of the NYPD. Jews Against Zionism NYU and Shut It Down NYU reported that the administration “discarded activists’ possessions,” including backpacks, electronics, perishables, and tents.

Columbia administration reportedly issued renewed waves of arrests targeting organizers who attempted to retrieve their belongings. In response, Barnard College’s Student Government Association (SGA) and Columbia College Student Council at Columbia University developed a proxy system to facilitate the retrieval of students’ belongings.

At the subsequent Student Rally at the West Butler Lawn, Dr. Cornel West and Mohammed El-Kurd addressed hundreds of students rallying for charges to be dropped against their peers.  

Columbia University Apartheid Divest posted a petition the same day: “Tell Columbia University: No More Suspensions, No More Arrests! We will not rest until Columbia divests.” The petition is sponsored by the Palestinian Solidarity Working Group and was addressed to President Minouche Shafik, College and University Deans, and the Board of Trustees. The petition demands “amnesty from any criminal charges” and “complete amnesty from both legal claims and academic discipline.”

The petition also demands that Columbia “reverse the suspensions and evictions of the Columbia Five,” a group of students who were disciplined without due process for their involvement in pro-Palestine organizing.

Finally, the petition reiterates the demands of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment: “Divestment of all Columbia University finances, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine, as well as full disclosure of all of Columbia's investments. We call for swift action to meet Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s additional demands, including the academic boycott of Israel, an end to displacement in Harlem and in Palestine, an end to the repression on campus, and a call from the university for a permanent ceasefire.”

The letter had over 12,407 signatures as of April 27.

Palestine Legal also issued a statement in solidarity with pro-Palestine student organizers at Columbia, endorsing the petition and citing the establishment of the encampment as being inspired by South African anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s.

Pro-Palestine Columbia University Apartheid Divest organizers subsequently held a press conference on April 18 at 7:00 P.M. via an Instagram Live hosted by National Students for Justice in Palestine, during which they addressed members of the free press directly.

Another sign-on letter went live on the 18th, signed by over 125 Human Rights and Public Interest Fellows and Honorees, who renounced their titles and demanded that Columbia remove them from the university website and donor appeals. The group expressed their “unconditional support to all student-led demands” and condemned Columbia’s treatment of pro-Palestine students.

A Barnard staff member also resigned due to the mistreatment of students, with the staffer citing Columbia’s “insanely racially violent” decision to mobilize the NYPD against students.

DAY 3: April 19, 2024

April 19 marked 48 hours of the pro-Palestine student organizers’ encampment, despite NYPD harassment and violence aimed at dismantling the encampment. On that day, NYC PYM announced that Columbia students had “taken over another lawn,” marking a third day of Columbia’s liberated zones being intact.

On the night of the 19th, organizers congregated outside of the Butler Library, where they played Palestinian music, danced, read poetry inspired by Refaat Alareer — a prominent Palestinian poet and educator who was targeted and murdered alongside his family in Gaza — and recited prose by the late writer and prisoner Walid Daqqa.

DAY 4: April 20, 2024

On April 20, the day began with Barnard suspending over 50 students and evicting them from their dormitories. Students were reportedly given only 15 minutes to retrieve their belongings. Furthermore, they were denied access to all campus buildings, including dining halls. Columbia University Apartheid Divest called for both students and parents to email Barnard administrators to hold them accountable.

When these students asked for interim housing accommodations, administrators told them via a leaked email to arrange flights back to their home states.

National Students for Justice in Palestine also issued a national call to action, demanding that “all SJPs across the nation… take back the university and force the administration to divest, for the people of Gaza!” NSJP then conducted an internal discussion for “immediate next action items.”

Shortly after this call to action, Harvard University’s Palestine Solidarity Committee and Harvard University Jews for Palestine rallied in solidarity with Columbia and in support of divestment.

As the day unfolded, Barnard issued “Banned on Campus” posters targeting the school’s pro-Palestine students on the same day, distributing them at front desks in dormitories.

Students didn’t stand alone, however. Despite being separated, non-Columbia community members outside the gates were captured on film, gathering to meet Columbia students on the other side and joining in chanting together, marking a monumental unity of students and the community.

On the fourth day of the encampment, administrative orders were issued,  prohibiting students from bringing any shelter supplies onto the campus, including tents and blankets. Nevertheless, Columbia students persisted in spending the night in the encampment, despite the cold and rainy weather of New York City.

Nerdeen Kiswani of Within Our Lifetime (WOL) visited the encampment in her wedding thobe. She offered words of encouragement to the students:

“People all over the country are standing with you guys. Do not stop! Keep going! And any support you need from us, from the broader Palestine movement, from people across the world, let us know! Because as long as you de-occupy this university, the people of New York City, the community will be here to stand with you! And there will continue to be de-occupation across the entire country. You guys are leading the way, so please don’t give up. Please, the Palestinian people count on you guys! Thank you!”   

The experiences of Columbia students also drew the attention of Palestinians in Gaza, as Hossam Shabbat—one of the few remaining journalists in the Strip, following the targeted killing of more than 100 Palestinian journalists by Israeli Occupation Forces—tweeted his appreciation for the students.

DAY 5: April 21, 2024

Three head tour guides at Barnard College (Maya Passman, Karen Chavez, and Molly Murch) resigned, citing the arrests, suspensions, and evictions of “first-generation/low-income students of color” as the reason why they “can no longer be complicit in advertising this school to prospective students.”

The tents that were previously dismantled by the administration and police were replaced, with Columbia University Apartheid Divest maintaining that they “will not be moved until Columbia divests.”

On April 21, it was revealed that Columbia University had forfeited the lawn for commencement preparations, resulting in significant financial losses for the university. Student organizers declared that “graduating students in [the] encampment [would] not move until [their] demands are met.” Columbia also announced virtual class options on the same day.

Organizers also hosted “the People’s University for Palestine Club Fair” on the lawn. According to a caption written by The People’s Forum, “Students in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia have taken their education into their own hands for themselves and for the young people visiting for Admitted Students Day.”

“The People’s University for Palestine has been built by a coalition of organizations, from the Black Students Union to the Vietnamese student association, to LGBTQ+ organizations, who are all part of the Columbia University Apartheid Divest,” the caption reads.

“The Peoples University for Palestine is the real school for struggle, where students have been tirelessly organizing and building the popular movement for Columbia University to meet their demands to divest from Zionist institutions.”

On the night of the 21st, a Columbia Spectator article featured statements given by a university spokesperson over email:

“Students do not have permission to set up tents on the lawn,” the spokesperson wrote. “Those who do are in violation of long-standing university policy and will be identified and subjected to disciplinary action.”

Columbia SJP and Columbia University Apartheid Divest issued an  Instagram statement in response, asserting that the threats “violate the considerations that… negotiators have established over the last four days.” The organizations affirm that they will not be “deterred from [their] principled stance of centering Palestine and protesting the genocide in Gaza until Columbia meets [their] demands regarding complete divestment & boycott.”

DAY 6: April 22, 2024

On April 22nd, Shai Davidai, a Zionist professor at Columbia who has been accused of inciting harassment against pro-Palestine student organizers for the past seven months, was barred from entering the campus, with his access card reportedly deactivated. The Columbia Spectator reported that Davidai is “is currently under investigation” by the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action “following reports of harassing students.”

Other faculty members delivered speeches on the lawn, calling for amnesty for student protestors. Professor María Rivera Maulucci — an alumna of both Barnard College and Teachers College and the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Education and Education Program Director Chair — denounced the arrests of students by emphasizing the root meaning of “education”: “to lead out.”

Maulucci asked, “Where are we leading students out? To buses? To police stations? For summonses? To bunker down in their dorms and refuse to leave because they have nowhere else to go?”

Faculty members also led a walkout into Barnard, chanting “no suspensions now” as they gathered before Barnard President Laura Rosenbury’s office.

On the afternoon of the 22nd, Columbia students overwhelmingly voted in favor of the university’s divestment from companies complicit in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians. PYM reported on Instagram that over 75% of students cast a ballot in support of divestment.

“For this divestment motion to be implemented, the university administration must now vote internally,” the organization’s Instagram caption read.

“Columbia must respond to the demands of its students. Today, the consensus within the Columbia community is undeniable. That consensus is one against the university continuing to profit off Palestinian death.”

Columbia SJP also published a statement on Instagram titled “Rejecting co-optation and centering Gaza,” in which the student organization asked the public to “please do not make this solely about solidarity with Columbia,” reminding their audience that the encampment “is about solidarity with Gaza first and foremost.”

DAY 7: April 23, 2024

On April 23, Dylan Saba, a member of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, shared a message of solidarity with Columbia students. According to the New York City chapter of PYM, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla “is currently on its way to [bring] humanitarian aid to Gaza and break the Zionist siege on Palestine’s coast.”

“We anticipate that they may meet us with violence, and potentially even lethal violence, as they have to past flotilla missions. But we believe this direct action is necessary to confront the Zionist entity and expose its crimes,” Saba wrote.

“The world will never forget the unthinkable sacrifice the Palestinian people have made for their liberation. For those of us in the solidarity movement, our actions pale in comparison, but our duty is to do what we can. This may mean risking our jobs, our standing as students, or even our bodies. This is the price of liberation and justice. But no person alone carries this weight. I have been moved and inspired by the images from this and other campuses as students like yourselves have remained steadfast throughout repression, intimidation, and even brutality from the state and from your cowardly administrations,” his statement continued.

"For those of us preparing to embark, you have given us strength and you have inspired so many others. This is the power of solidarity. We can, each of us in the movement, take small steps in many directions, all of us knowing that our comrades are beside us and behind us. Eventually, though not without setbacks and not without confrontation, we can cover the world. Continue to love and support each other. This is all we have. Onward to liberation."

On the same day, arrested students published an open letter addressed to faculty members and instructors demanding that they “halt the functioning of the university by any means necessary until demands are met,” focusing on labor actions including “withholding grading labor, calling in sick, and refusing to administer exams or submit final grade[s] until these demands are met.”

The letter identifies that “tenured faculty have significant leverage to disrupt ‘business as normal’ while taking on minimal risk and protecting their junior colleagues.”

At 4:00 P.M. on the same afternoon, arrested Columbia Jewish students held a press conference via Instagram Live on BTS Newsroom’s account:

“No matter how hard the President’s PR campaign and the state of Israel tries to pretend [otherwise], I am the Jewish future. As someone who was taught to love the state of Israel from my birth, this is what unlearning generational trauma looks like. I am an inconvenience to the PR campaign that is the state of Israel,” one Jewish student said in the press conference.

Gazan photographer Motaz Azaiza and Najla Saïd — Edward Said’s daughter — also joined the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the 23rd to encourage students to remain steadfast in their efforts.

Faculty walked out en masse from classes, meetings, and office hours in solidarity with students at Columbia.

In the evening, Columbia SJP issued a press release detailing that, during negotiations with Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the administration threatened to call in the NYPD and the National Guard.

DAY 8: April 24, 2024

On April 24, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives — Mike Johnson, a proponent of the white nationalist “Great Replacement Theory” — and other Republican members of the House visited Columbia University campus. In his speech, Johnson condemned the university protests across the country, called for the president of Columbia University to resign, and for President Biden to take executive action against student protestors, saying “If this is not contained quickly, and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard.” This was met with boos from the crowd.

Gavin Mcinnes, the founder of the Proud Boys — a militant far-right group that was designated a terrorist entity by the Canadian government in 2021 and the New Zealand government in 2022 — was spotted on campus around 3 P.M. He tried to enter the encampment and was turned away by students. Columbia University’s Public Safety Office was reportedly unaware of his presence and had “concerns” over how he gained entrance to the university.

In response to these visits, Columbia University Apartheid Divest released a statement, saying “WHITE SUPREMACISTS ARE NOT WELCOME ON CAMPUS AND NEAR OUR ENCAMPMENT. In our fight for Palestinian liberation, we reject all attempts to distract from the cause and put the safety of our student protestors at risk.”

According to an Instagram statement released by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Columbia SJP, Columbia University Apartheid Divest, and the People’s Forum, students also put on “alternative programming for those joining on the lawns, from teach-ins to cultural performances, news updates and analysis, art builds and poetry readings. Through the encampment, students have reclaimed their space at the university and are offering each other educational opportunities that center Gaza, Palestine, and the struggle for liberation everywhere.”

On this day, children in Gaza sent a message to student protestors, holding signs saying “Thank you students” and “We love you students” of Columbia, Harvard, and Yale.

DAY 9: April 25, 2024

On April 25, Palestine Legal filed a civil rights complaint against Columbia over NYPD arrests of 100+ students peacefully protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza and threats to bring in the National Guard.

“Columbia has allowed and contributed to a pervasive anti-Palestinian environment on campus — including students receiving death threats, being harassed for wearing Keffiyehs or hijab, doxed, harassed by admin, suspended, locked out of campus, and more.”

This complaint also cites the January 19 chemical attack on student protestors, reportedly by other Columbia University students and former members of the Israeli Occupation Forces, which resulted in at least eight hospitalizations.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also visited the encampment on this day. Her daughter is one of the Barnard College students who was suspended by the university on April 18 for participating in the protests.

DAY 10: April 26, 2024

On April 26, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman visited the encampment.

Columbia SJP and National SJP subsequently issued an Instagram statement titled “On Opportunists,” in response to the multiple visits from various members of Congress, school administration officials, and others, asserting “while we appreciate the support of public figures who stand on the right side of history and use their platform to push for Palestinian liberation, we will not highlight [the presence of any politician] so as to not detract from Gaza. This student movement is important, but we are not on the lawn to get videos with celebrity figures. We gather on this lawn to educate, radicalize, and to center Palestinian and Gazan voices. We see through the politicians who previously were silent, refusing to acknowledge their complicity in the ongoing genocide, who now come to our campus seeking photo-ops for political campaigns.”

Columbia SJP also released an Instagram statement regarding leaked documents that were originally given to “high-ranking university officials” concerning discriminatory policies for the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Dual Degree program. The letter raises concerns over discriminatory admissions policies at Tel Aviv University, stating that “nearly all 30-40 students, if not all” admitted to the program are Jewish and that there is a “widespread perception that the program predominantly serves Jewish students, raising concerns that admissions decisions may be influenced by factors such as students’ identifying information from their applications.” Concerns were also raised about disproportionate financial aid being provided by Columbia University to students who are part of the TAU Dual Degree program in comparison to other Columbia students and the “prejudicial behavior” of the dean of the Columbia School of General Studies, which hosts the university’s dual degree programs. Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch reportedly met with veterans of the Israeli Occupation Forces and “directed them to counter pro-Palestine student activists and to actively disrupt pro-Palestine advocacy on campus.”

DAY 11: April 27, 2024

On April 27, reports began circulating that Columbia University was considering a lockdown of campus. The University administration clarified that there was no impending lockdown. In an Instagram post, Columbia University Apartheid Divest stated: “We expect them to keep their word.” In another Instagram statement, organizers confirmed that they had received “credible” information on a potential lockdown from “three different faculty sources” and that their earlier post about a potential lockdown “caused [Columbia administration] to first delay, then cancel the press conference.” The statement went on to note that“our collective unity and response today was what made them (the university administration) scramble.”

 Day 12: April 28, 2024

On April 28, Columbia SJP and Columbia University Apartheid Divest released an Instagram statement to provide transparency on the negotiations with the administration. “Despite our resilient occupation of the lawn for over 10 days, Columbia refuses to acknowledge to the rationale of the student movement.” Organizers described the offers given by the university in response to their demands and their reasons for rejecting the offers.

The university offered to pass all the proposals through the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, which students rejected based on it being non-binding and entirely dependent on the Board of Trustees. While the university offered to disclose its direct investments, this does not apply to the majority of Columbia’s endowment, which is in indirect holdings. Hence, students rejected this offer as well. Regarding the academic boycott of the Tel Aviv Dual Degree Program and the Tel Aviv Global Center, the university “proposed a review of the program’s accessibility and to increase access to these spaces through engagement with the Israeli government,” which was also rejected by organizers because their boycott “demands less engagement — not more.”

The university also asked “every student involved in the encampment to self-identify and to attest to abiding by university rules in the future” in response to the demands for amnesty for all students involved in the protests. Organizers affirmed that “forcing students to self-identify is contrary to the spirit of universal amnesty. Further, the attestation process is an underhanded attempt to stifle the student movement by ensuring that students lose their right to protest in the upcoming months.”

Day 13: April 29, 2024

On April 29, Columbia University President Shafik released a statement on the ongoing encampment. She reiterated that the university "will not divest from Israel." Shafik — a former IMF official who has received titles from the British monarchy — urged organizers to disperse, weaponizing the commencement of first-generation college graduates against the encampment: "We also do not want to deprive thousands... of a graduation celebration... many of them are the first in their families to earn a university degree." 

The university also delivered threats of suspension to students at the encampment if they did not sign waivers and vacate the encampment by 2 P.M. Students responded by writing on print-outs of these threats in red marker: “I AIN’T READING ALL THAT FREE PALESTINE,” and “SUSPENSION FOR GAZA IS THE HIGHEST HONOR! VIVA PALESTINA.”

Students at Barnard College voted on whether the college should divest. According to an Instagram statement released by Columbia SJP and Columbia University Apartheid Divest, 90% of the student body voted to divest. 

Day 14: April 30, 2024

At midnight on April 30, Columbia SJP, Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the NYC chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement, and the People’s Forum requested a mass mobilization on the Columbia University campus. By 1 A.M., students began to occupy Hamilton Hall and form a human chain outside the building to protect protestors inside. Students unfurled a banner renaming the building “Hind’s Hall,” in memory of Hind Rajab, the six-year-old girl in Gaza whose call for help to the Palestinian Red Cresent was released on social media earlier this year. Hind, her family, and the paramedics who attempted to save her were all killed by targeted Israeli airstrikes.

Columbia Apartheid Divest and Columbia SJP released a mobilization call on Instagram detailing the university’s response. Reportedly, Columbia limited campus access only to students who live on campus in dorms, effectively restricting other students' access to food, water, and toilets. Butler Library was shut down and evacuated at 12:15 P.M., with student belongings seized. Reportedly, staff were not allowing students to retrieve their belongings and, at 12:23 P.M., every building on campus was shut down.

At 3:19 P.M., the Columbia University Office of Public Affairs released a media brief, stating that students occupying Hind’s Hall — formerly Hamilton Hall — were being suspended.

A letter by Columbia University President Shafik NYPD began circulating where she wrote requesting their “help to clear all individuals from Hamilton Hall and all campus encampments” and that the university “trust that you will take care and caution when removing any individual from our campus.” NYPD deployed over 100 officers to begin mass arrests, officers entered campus sometime after 9:00 P.M. Members of the student press reported online that they were “hit, shoved, [and] forcibly pushed” away from the encampment. Columbia University Apartheid Divest released a short statement via their Instagram stories describing the violent arrests by NYPD and updates from students who had been arrested. Legal observers and the press were reportedly barred entry, including Columbia students. Students also reported “students with swollen faces from being kicked repeatedly, lacerations, [getting] tackled to the ground and thrown down stairs.” Some students had to be taken to the hospital immediately to have their injuries treated. While EMS was on-site at jail support to treat injured students, there was a report of a student on campus who, after being “pushed down the stairs,” was not given medical attention for “over an hour.”

NYPD also deployed an armored vehicle to drag students out of the second floor of Hind’s (Hamilton) Hall after arresting students who had been forming a “human chain” outside the building to deter officers. Some officers entered the building with their weapons drawn. Students who were uninvolved in the protest in a nearby undergraduate dormitory were barricaded into the building.

A video posted by Columbia SJP on April 30 showed a police officer outside of the Hall on campus texting “thought we fucking shot someone.” It was later revealed that a gun was indeed fired. On May 3, The City reported that an NYPD officer fired his gun inside Hind’s (Hamilton) Hall on April 30, as confirmed to the news outlet by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. NYPD told The City that the gun was fired “accidentally” while allegedly attempting to use the flashlight attached to the gun.

During a press conference on May 1, NYPD announced that 109 people were arrested at Columbia University the night before. All those arrested were charged with one or more of the following: trespassing, criminal mischief, or burglary.

The Office of Civil Rights (ORC) at the U.S. Department of Education also announced that it will be investigating Columbia University for anti-Palestinian racism, according to Palestine Legal. In a social media caption posted along with National SJP, Columbia SJP, and Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Legal’s senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath is quoted:

“The law is clear — if universities do not cease their racism crackdowns against Palestinians and their supporters, they risk losing federal funding,” said Sainath. “Students have the right to speak out against the genocide of Palestinians, without fear of unequal treatment, racist attacks or being denied access to an education by their university.”

Palestine Legal is representing four students who have experienced anti-Palestinian racism and harassment by fellow students, professors, and/or Columbia administrators. They had filed a federal civil rights complaint on April 25 on behalf of those students.

Columbia University is one of the two first universities to be federally investigated for discrimination on campus after brutal police attacks on student encampments, the other being Emory University in Atlanta.  

Laura Albast contributed to parts of this report.
About The Author: 

Anna Rajagopal is a South Asian Jewish organizer, journalist, and writer based in Houston, Texas. Anna's work focuses on Palestinian movement building and resistance in exile. 

Kaitlyn Cook holds an MA in Anthropology from George Washington University and BAs in Anthropology and Classical Studies from the University of Rhode Island. She has previously worked for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History doing cultural heritage revitalization work with Indigenous communities worldwide.

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