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Columbia university: Police in riot gear arrest dozens of students, clear pro-Palestine encampment

Students opposing Israel’s war on Gaza could be seen handcuffed with zip ties and being led to line of police buses, day after occupying administration building

Dozens of students were arrested early on Wednesday when New York police officers wearing riot gear entered the main campus of Columbia University and broke up an anti-war and pro-Palestine encampment, in the latest escalation of college campus demonstrations against the war on Gaza.

Police used an armoured vehicle with a bridging mechanism to gain entry to Hamilton Hall building, which students had occupied since Monday night and renamed Hind's Hall - after a six-year old Palestinian child went missing in Gaza and was later found killed along with several of her relatives and two paramedics who tried to save her, after they appear to have come under fire from Israeli tanks.

Several students and pro-Palestine demonstrators could be heard jeering the police, as officers gained entry to the second-floor building using a ladder and used flash-bangs to disperse the crowd.

Later, officers could be seen escorting the student protesters, their hands tied behind their backs with plastic zip ties, into police vehicles outside the campus gates.

The move to clear the protest came exactly 56 years since police swept into Hamilton Hall to end a 1968 protest by students against racism and the Vietnam War.

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"The university chose to call hundreds of [New York Police Department] NYPD officers onto campus and violently arrest students. The administration has also asked the police to remain on campus until May 17. Presumably, after that the campus will be locked down," one academic, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye.

"How long will the siege of Columbia last? We do not know but whatever emerges after this siege will no longer be a university," the academic said.

'Tonight, my university called in a militarised police force to attack teenagers'

- Lea Salim, Columbia student

The escalation at Columbia came as the NYPD simultaneously entered the encampment set up City University of New York (CUNY) in Manhattan, reportedly beating and spraying protesters including faculty and journalists with pepper spray.

One faculty member told MEE that at least one person had been taken to hospital with injuries.

Meanwhile, the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors at Columbia lamented the show of force on students as a means to diffuse the protest movement.

"Armed police entering our campus places students and everyone else on campus at risk," the statement read.

"That is why University statutes require consultation with faculty - statutes which appear to have been ignored since April 17, and again tonight. We hold University leadership responsible for the disastrous lapses of judgement that have gotten us to this point."

New York City Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat, condemned the police action in a post on X.

"These are students. In no world should our kids be met with guns when using their constitutional right to peacefully assemble," he wrote.

Likewise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) described the raid a stain on Columbia. "It will forever be a stain on Columbia that the administration called riot police on its own student body rather than divest from the brutality of war and occupation."

Columbia's President Minouche Shafik said in a letter to the NYPD, that she felt compelled to call on them for assistance following the student takeover of Hind's Hall (Hamilton Hall).

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"With the support of the university's trustees, I have determined that the buildings, occupation, encampments and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to persons, property and substantial functioning of the University, and require the use of emergency authority to protect persons and property," Shafik wrote.

Responding to the raid, Lea Salim, a Columbia student, lamented the university's heavy-handed approach to student protesters.

"Tonight, my university called in a militarised police force - armed in riot gear, with guns drawn, deploying weapons banned under international law - to attack teenagers," she said.

"All because Columbia refuses to divest from the Israeli military and its genocidal campaign on the people of Gaza."

For over two weeks, the university along with others across the US has been the scene of protests against Israel's war on Gaza, which has killed at least 34,500 Palestinians, most of them children and women.

Student activists are demanding their institutions commit to divestment from Israeli companies and that the US stops bankrolling Israel's bloody campaign.

Israel is currently facing genocide charges at the International Court of Justice for its conduct in Gaza, which includes mass bombardment of civilian areas, summary executions and the withdrawal of food and other aid into the territory.

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