Inside the Gaza solidarity encampment at Columbia University

Inside the Gaza solidarity encampment at Columbia University

Lara-Nour Walton writes:

Around 4 AM on Wednesday, hundreds of Columbia University students set up tents on the East Butler lawn, establishing what they called a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” in protest of the university’s role in helping fund the war in Gaza.

The occupation, organized by the Columbia University Apartheid Divest coalition (CUAD), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), had been planned for months. The encampment was an escalation of previous pro-Palestine actions, designed to echo the university’s history of protest. “Columbia University has a rich legacy of student activism, from Vietnam War protests in 1968 to being the first Ivy League school to divest from Apartheid South Africa in 1985,” wrote CUAD on Wednesday. “The Gaza Solidarity Encampment will remain until Columbia University divests all finances, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine.”

The peaceful occupation began the same day Columbia President Minouche Shafik testified at an antisemitism probe by the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce. During the hearing, Representative Ilhan Omar questioned Shafik about an apparent chemical attack by two Israeli students at a Gaza solidarity rally on campus earlier this year. In January, pro-Palestinian protesters reported physical symptoms consistent with chemical inhalation and sought medical attention. At the hearing, Shafik announced that the perpetrators had been suspended, though she has yet to publish a statement about the chemical attacks or reach out to those affected, according to Columbia graduate student Layla Saliba, one of the victims.

Seda, a CUAD member who spoke to The Nation using a pseudonym, said that the congressional hearing wasn’t the driving force behind the encampment: “Even if the hearing were not happening, we would have had some sort of escalation because there’s been no material change in the university stance since we’ve started organizing against the genocide.” Another protester, Isra Hirsi—the daughter of Representative Omar—said that the hearing was helpful for visibility: “Not only can we situate ourselves in the current moment, but we can also take advantage of the media presence, of the pressure being put on Shafik and the board of trustees.” [Continue reading…]

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