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United States: Pro-Palestinian Columbia students defy university ultimatum

Students from the university Columbia à New York, where started a pro-Palestinian student movement in the United States, occupied a building during the night of Monday Tuesday, defying an ultimatum to stop their movement.

For its part, the UN said Tuesday it was “concerned” about police actions on university campuses in the United States. “I am concerned that some measures taken by law enforcement at a range of universities appear to have a disproportionate impact,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk .

The High Commissioner said he was troubled “by a series of heavy-handed measures taken to disperse and dismantle the demonstrations”, stressing that “freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are fundamental”.

Columbia began Monday evening to sanction students refusing to leave, “except by force”, a camp that had been set up for ten days.

Overnight, protesters barricaded themselves in the Hamilton building and others surrounded it in a human chain outside, according to a video posted on social media.

“Members of the Columbia community took over Hamilton Hall just after midnight,” the student group Columbia University Apartheid Divest said in a statement. They renamed it “Hind's Hall” in honor of a six-year-old girl, Hind, killed during the war in Gaza.

– “Except by the strength” –

“Taking control of a building is a small risk compared to the daily resistance of Palestinians in Gaza,” the group adds.

“We have started to suspend (administratively ) students, as part of this new step to ensure the security of our campus”, Columbia's vice-president for communications, Ben Chang, announced to the press Monday evening.

United States: Pro-Palestinian Columbia students defy university ultimatum

Pro-Gaza student protesters at an encampment at Columbia University in New York, April 29, 2024 © AFP – TIMOTHY A. CLARY

After a relatively calm weekend on campus, where a “village” of tents is set up, Columbia President Minouche Shafik launched an ultimatum on Monday expiring at 6:00 p.m. GMT. She urged 200 occupants of an encampment to leave, following the failure of five days of negotiations for an amicable solution.

These students and Pro-Palestinian activists demanding that Columbia, a private university, cut ties with patrons or companies linked to Israel, then called for “protecting the encampment”.

United States: Pro-Palestinian Columbia students defy university ultimatum

Pro-Palestinian students on the campus of Columbia University, which they refuse to leave, April 29, 2024 in New York © AFP – TIMOTHY A. CLARY

“We will not be dislodged, except by force,” Sueda Polat, a student leader of the movement, shouted at a press briefing. An AFP journalist counted around fifty people remaining Monday evening in the small encampment in a relaxed atmosphere and without police presence.

Columbia assured Friday that it would not call on the New York police to evacuate the tents.

But for Columbia professor Joseph Howley, the ultimatum issued by President Shafik amounts to ” give in to external political pressures”.

– Vietnam –

The wave of protest against the war led by Israel against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been spreading across American universities for ten days. The movement started from Columbia where one hundred people were arrested on April 18.

Since then, hundreds of others – students, teachers and activists – have been questioned, sometimes arrested and prosecuted in several universities across the country.

Images of anti-police officers -riots taking place on campuses, at the request of universities, went around the world, recalling similar events in the United States during the Vietnam War.

United States: Pro-Palestinian Columbia students defy university ultimatum

Pro-Palestinian students on the campus of Columbia University, which they refuse to leave, April 29, 2024 in New York © AFP – TIMOTHY A. CLARY

The protests have reignited the tense debate since the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, over freedom of expression, a constitutional right and allegations of anti-Semitism.

This winter, the two presidents of Harvard and UPenn universities had to resign after being accused before Congress in Washington of not doing enough against anti-Semitism .

On the one hand, students and teachers accuse their universities of seeking to censor free political expression, on the other several personalities, including Republican elected officials, believe that activists fuel anti-Semitism.

Jewish students have joined the ranks of pro-Palestinian mobilizations.

– 'No encampments' allowed in Texas –

Over the weekend, more than 350 people were arrested at several universities across the country and the Boston encampment was dismantled.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a camp was also dismantled and a few people arrested. On Monday, police used pepper spray. “No encampments will be allowed,” conservative Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on social media.

Lawyer Paul Quinzi, who defends detained people in Austin, estimated for AFP “at least 80 the number of arrests” which “continue” .

United States: Pro-Palestinian Columbia students defy university ultimatum

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the campus of UCLA University, in Los Angeles (California), United States, April 29, 2024 © AFP – Frederic J. BROWN

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond (north-east), the police pushed demonstrators out, according to images from local television. Students accused the police of having used tear gas.

The management declared on were not students”, possibilities to leave the premises and “those who did not do so were arrested and are in violation”.

The war was triggered by the unprecedented attack by Hamas on October 7 on Israeli soil which led to the massacre of 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to an AFP report based on official Israeli data.

In retaliation, Israel promised to destroy the Islamist movement and its vast military operation in the Gaza Strip left 34,535 dead, mostly civilians, according to Hamas.


All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116