A Week in Photos from the Columbia University Gaza Solidarity Encampment
May 10 2024
blog Series: 

Many of those who visited the encampment didn’t make a real effort to talk to people without a camera or microphone in hand. The general student atmosphere at the encampment, however, was loving. There were around 100 people at any given time. Comradery and kindness were shown to everyone who walked in. The encampment hosted religious spaces, cultural activities, painting areas, and a nut-free zone so that people with allergies could eat without worry. It was communal and inviting, and strikingly different from the image of what reporters outside the encampment conveyed. The media painted the encampment as chaos when in reality, it was a quiet space. Aside from a couple of times a day when students chanted or moved things around, the atmosphere was serene. Nobody captured that. 

I was able to capture footage easily during the first days of the encampment, especially when the university called the NYPD for the first time — something that hadn’t happened in decades. Students present were prepared and wanted documentation for their safety, legal matters, and history. But, as the days passed and swarms of reporters began to show up, the encampment became a less safe environment for the students. They were not comfortable speaking to the press anymore. There were many parachute journalists — stopping in for an hour and expecting interviews and photographs as if they were owed. They were oblivious to the level of love and trust that went into making the encampment. 

I thought deeply about how to capture emotion in someone’s hands, in their living space, in their food, and paintings. I did not want to photograph their faces, I wanted to keep them safe. A consideration many photojournalists at mainstream outlets ignore. 

The posters and signs lying around were the most striking part of the encampment. I usually avoid photographing signs because it means I am overlooking people to capture words. But, these signs were so powerful and spoke on behalf of the students wrapped in keffiyehs. They represented the different religious, ethnic, and social groups; they introduced the students and their demands — divestment, freedom, and justice. Words that have been criminalized such as “intifada, revolution” — Intifada meaning uprising in Arabic, or “shaking off” — are a rallying cry that has been shared by the masses for decades. Now, the younger generation has picked it up, making bold statements on their campus affirming that an uprising will emerge, regardless of who approves of it. 

Palestinian flags adorned the Columbia University Gaza Solidarity Encampment, which lasted two weeks before a brutal assault carried by the NYPD at the administration’s behest. The flags were marked by the names of Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza to honor their lives. If you were to have looked over the encampment from above, you would have seen dozens of red, green, white, and black dots across the field, realizing each carried but a fraction of the names of martyrs. 

This introduction is based on an interview with the photographer. It was transcribed and edited for clarity by Amber Rahman and Laura Albast.


Students and faculty film the NYPD as they arrest students inside the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A student bangs on a drum while others chant and wave flags, an hour after the arrests on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A human chain formed by pro-Palestine protesters on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A protester holds up a sign that reads "Your silence kills Palestinians every hour of every day," one hour after other protesters were arrested on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Pro-Palestine protesters form a human wall to shield against pro-Israel counter-protesters on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Students form human chains around the newly erected tents after campus security tried to remove them from the South Lawn on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Dr. Cornel West greets Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd after both spoke to the crowd at the encampment on April 18, 2024.(Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sign is placed on the steps near the middle of campus on April 18, 2024. it reads: "Israel bombs, Columbia paus, how many kids did you kill 2day." (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A police officer looks at the crowds of people booing the NYPD and administration for arresting students on April 18, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Painted signs made by students on the lawn in the encampment at Columbia University on April 22, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A student stands in front of one of the gates of the lawn where the encampment is erected at Columbia University on April 23, 2024. Hanging on the fence are signs, one reads: "Divest Now!" (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Small Palestinian flags surround the perimeter of the encampment, each with the name of a martyr from Gaza, killed by Israel. April 23, 2024.  (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


 A student wearing a keffiyeh tries to enter campus as the NYPD lines the walls of Columbia’s entrance on April 23, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Right after Tuesday’s midnight deadline was extended, Tents were moved back onto the South Lawn at Columbia University on April 23, 2024, after students were given a midnight deadline the day before by the university President Minouche Shafik. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sign on one of the tents reads, “Therapists for Palestine,” and crosses out the letter P in PTSD emphasizing that Palestinians are experiencing trauma on an ongoing basis. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sign reads, “Passover is for liberation,” hung up on a tent on April 23, 2024, a day after Columbia’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace hosted a Seder in the encampment. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Chains and a heavy-duty lock on the entrance to Columbia University from 116th and Broadway on April 23, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sticker plastered near the encampment, it reads, “Resist colonial power by any means necessary." April 23, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sign at the encampment reminds that reads, "300 bodies were found in a mass grave in Khan Younis," in Gaza. April 24, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A sign reads, “Intifada, Revolution,” at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Two signs near the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. April 24, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


Stickers plastered onto a wall sculpture of the Columbia Lion, the university's mascot. April 24, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)

 Stickers near the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University that read, "#FireMinouche" referencing the university's president. April 24, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


A view of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University from the third floor of Pulitzer Hall on April 24, 2024. (Photo: Samaa Khullar)


About The Author: 

Samaa Khullar is a Toni Stabile Investigative fellow based in New York City. Her work encompasses both investigative journalism and social justice, and explores issues including transnational identity, refugees and migration, gender and women’s issues, and Middle Eastern policy.

Her works have been featured in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, AJ+, and New Lines Magazine.

She is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute where she specialized in Journalism and Middle Eastern Studies, and received the Anna and Peter Zenger Award for Press Freedom. She is graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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