Pro-Israel demonstration at UCLA screens October 7 images

‘Intifada’: Anti-Israel protesters break into Columbia campus building and seize it

University suspends students who refused to remove tents by deadline; protesters smash windows, occupy Hamilton Hall; school urges avoiding campus; Biden condemns takeover

Anti-Israel protesters violently break into a Columbia University campus hall building and seize it, unfurling an "Intifada" banner from one of its windows, April 29, 2024. (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Protesters at Columbia University, the epicenter of anti-Israel protests that have upended college campuses across the United States, broke into a building on the New York school’s campus on Tuesday, barricaded themselves inside and unfurled an “intifada” banner from a window.

Videos and photos from Hamilton Hall showed at least one individual smashing a window with a hammer.

Doors to the building were shut and blocked from inside with tables, chairs, metal barricades and other objects or sealed with locks, zip ties or ropes by dozens of protesters, the student paper reported.

According to the Columbia Spectator, demonstrators also allegedly held workers there against their will for a short period of time.

A demonstrator at Columbia University breaks the windows of the front door of the building in order to secure a chain around it to prevent authorities from entering as part of an anti-Israel demonstration, April 30, 2024. (Alex Kent/Getty Images/AFP)

The newspaper reported that a maintenance worker exited the building at 12:40 a.m. after yelling to be released, telling the crowd as he left that he had been “held hostage” inside. Three other workers reportedly left some 30 minutes later after the barricades blocking one door were removed.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the building, forming a human chain to block the doors, and chanted slogans seen by many as anti-Israel, including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Students block the entrance of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University after taking over it on April 30, 2024, in New York (Marco Postigo Storel via AP)

A group calling themselves the Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) declared on X that the activists had “reclaimed” Hamilton Hall and renamed it “Hind Hall in honor of Hind Rajab, a martyr murdered at the hands of the genocidal Israeli state at the age of six years old.”

An Israel Defense Forces investigation in February, immediately after the Gazan girl’s body was found, said there were no troops in the area at the time of her death.

Anti-Israel demonstrators at Columbia University Campus unfurl a banner as they barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, naming it after a Palestinian child allegedly killed by the Israel in Gaza amid the ongoing war with Hamas, April 30, 2024 in New York City. (Marco Postigo Storel via AP)

Photos shared on social media also showed a Palestinian flag unfurled from a window of the building, as well as banners reading “Intifada” and “Gaza Calls Columbia Falls.”

For Israelis, the Arabic word “intifada,” literally “uprising,” conjures traumatic memories of mass waves of deadly terror attacks in 1987-1993 and again in the early 2000s.

Protestors said they planned to remain at the hall until the university agreed to meet the CUAD’s three demands: divestment, financial transparency and amnesty.

As the hours went on, hundreds gathered outside to rally in support of the occupation of the building.

The Columbia Spectator reported that New York City police officers in unmarked cars were present outside the building, though it was unclear if police had been invited onto the campus by university authorities.

Protesters hang a ‘Student Intifada’ banner from Hamilton Hall at Columbia University on April 30, 2024 in New York (Marco Postigo Storel via AP)

In a statement on Tuesday, the university asked staff and students to stay away from its main campus amid the demonstration.

“In light of the protest activity on campus, members of the University community who can avoid coming to the Morningside campus today should do so,” the statement said, adding that essential staff should report to work although access to the campus and some buildings may be restricted.

Later Tuesday, the White House issued a statement saying US President Joe Biden opposes the building takeover.

“The president believes that forcibly taking over a building on campus is absolutely the wrong approach. That is not an example of peaceful protest,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing. “Hate speech and hate symbols have no place in this country.”

“A small percentage of students shouldn’t be able to disrupt the academic experience… for the rest of the student body,” he said. “Students paying to go to school and want an education should be able to do that without disruption and they ought to be able to… feel safe doing it.”

“They certainly deserve to be able to graduate and participate in a graduation ceremony,” Kirby added. Earlier this month, the University of Southern California decided to cancel its main graduation ceremony due to concerns over mass pro-Palestinian protests.

The latest demonstration came hours after Columbia began suspending student protesters on Monday when they defied an ultimatum to disperse.

The suspensions followed almost two weeks of protests against Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that have swept through higher education institutions from coast to coast, at times veering into antisemitism and intimidation of Jewish students. Around 100 protesters were first arrested at the prestigious New York university on April 18.

Hamilton Hall was previously occupied by students protesting the Vietnam War in 1968 and again by anti-apartheid activists in 1985.

Widening campus unrest

Meanwhile at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where opposing protesters clashed over the weekend, pro-Israeli activists set up a large screen and loudspeakers to play a taped loop of images from the Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, which saw thousands of terrorists burst across the border, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The video appeared aimed at countering pro-Hamas chants that have seeped into campus protests in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

As part of a counter-protest, a display set up near an encampment on the UCLA campus, in Los Angeles, April 29, 2024, shows footage taken the previous year during the October 7 Hamas onslaught on Israel. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UCLA also stepped up security around the pro-Palestinian encampment there, consisting of more than 50 tents surrounded by metal fencing near the main administration building on campus.

At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, police and protesters clashed as officers moved in after nightfall Monday to break up an encampment.

Local TV aired video of police in riot gear dousing demonstrators, many of whom the university said were not students, with what appeared to be pepper spray, and making arrests.

Also Monday, dozens of officers in riot gear at the University of Utah sought to break up an encampment outside the university president’s office that went up in the afternoon.

Police dragged students off by their hands and feet, snapping the poles holding up tents and zip-tying those who refused to disperse. Seventeen people were arrested.

The university said it was against code to camp overnight on school property, and that the students had been given several warnings to disperse before police were called in.

At USC organizers of a large encampment sat down with university president Carol Folt for about 90 minutes on Monday. Folt declined to discuss details but said she heard the concerns of protesters and talks would continue Tuesday.

USC sparked a controversy April 15 when officials refused to allow the valedictorian, who has publicly supported Palestinians and has a controversial social media history, to make a commencement speech, citing nonspecific security concerns for their rare decision. Administrators then scrapped the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu, who is an alumnus, and declined to award any honorary degrees.

The backlash, as well as the demonstrations at Columbia, inspired the encampment and protests on the USC campus last week, where 90 people were arrested by police in riot gear. USC has now canceled its main graduation event.

Administrators elsewhere tried to salvage their commencements and several have ordered the clearing of encampments in recent days. When those efforts have failed, officials threatened discipline, including suspension, and possible arrest.

In a rare case, Northwestern University said it had reached an agreement with students and faculty who represent the majority of protesters on its campus near Chicago.

It will allow peaceful demonstrations through the June 1 end of spring classes and in exchange, required removal of all tents except one for aid and restricted the demonstration area to allow only students, faculty and staff, and university-approved exceptions.

Anti-Israel demonstrators at Columbia University lock arms as they barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, April 30, 2024. (Alex Kent/Getty Images/AFP)

While pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests have been held regularly on US campuses since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, the demonstrations drew renewed attention after Columbia protesters set up their encampment earlier this month.

After the NYPD removed the encampment and arrested more than 100 protesters, demonstrators at other universities around the country and in Europe erected their own encampments and the Columbia one was reassembled.

Protest organizers deny accusations of antisemitism, arguing that their actions are aimed at the Israeli government and its prosecution of the conflict in Gaza. They also claim the more threatening incidents have been engineered by non-student agitators.

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