Hundreds of students arrested in US Gaza war protests, scuffles at UCLA

Police out in full force, some using chemical irritants and Tasers to disperse students, as more universities join movement.

Hundreds of students have been arrested across universities in the United States, with scuffles reported between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA, as rallies for a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies linked to Israel spread across US campuses.

The pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California at Los Angeles has expanded in recent days, but counter-protesters have also become increasingly vocal and visible.

On Sunday, the mood turned ugly when some demonstrators broke through a barrier that had been set up to separate the two factions, according to Mary Osako, UCLA’s vice chancellor for strategic communications.

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People from both sides then pushed and shoved each other, shouting slogans and insults and in some cases trading punches. Campus police armed with batons eventually separated the sparring groups.

 

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Osako said the university was “heartbroken” about the violence and had introduced additional security measures.

“As an institution of higher education, we stand firmly for the idea that even when we disagree, we must still engage respectfully and recognize one another’s humanity,” she said in a statement. “We are dismayed that certain individuals instead chose to jeopardize the physical safety of the community.”

While the Los Angeles police were not called in at UCLA and no arrests were made, officers in other parts of the country were deployed to campuses on Saturday, with some using chemical irritants and Tasers to disperse the students, as the protests spread.

In Boston, police detained about 100 people while clearing a protest camp at Northeastern University, with social media posts showing security forces in riot gear and officers loading tents onto the back of a truck.

In a statement on X, Northeastern said the area on campus where the protests were held was now “fully secured” and “all campus operations have returned to normal”.

The university said its move came after “what began as a student demonstration two days ago was infiltrated by professional organisers with no affiliation to Northeastern”. It added that detained individuals who produced a valid student ID were released and will face disciplinary proceedings, not legal action.

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Police clear an encampment on the Northeastern University campus in Boston [Michael Casey/AP Photo]
Northeastern said that “Kill the Jews” had been heard at the protests, and that such chants “crossed the line”, making it necessary to clear waht it said was an “unauthorized encampment” that had been “infiltrated” by professional organisers with no affiliation to the university.

 

However, members of the pro-Palestinian protest movement at the university rejected those claims.

Video posted from the site appeared to show that people holding Israeli flags were the ones using the slur.

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In Bloomington in the Midwest, the Indiana University Police Department arrested 23 people as they cleared a campus protest camp, the Indiana Daily Student newspaper reported.

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On the opposite side of the country, the Arizona State University Police Department arrested 69 people for trespassing after the group set up an “unauthorised encampment” on campus.

Arizona state officials said a protest group, “most of whom were not ASU students, faculty or staff”, set up a camp on Friday and ignored repeated orders to disperse.

Students gather for a Pro-Palestinian protest at the Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona [Liliana Salgado/Reuters]
Meanwhile, at Washington University in St Louis, at least 80 people were arrested, including US presidential candidate Jill Stein and her campaign manager.

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Across the US, university leaders have tried, and largely failed, to quell the demonstrations, which have often seen the police intervening violently, with videos emerging from different states showing hundreds of students – and even faculty members – being forcefully arrested.

The protesters have demanded amnesty for students and faculty members disciplined or fired for protesting. About a week ago at Columbia University in New York, more than 100 pro-Palestinian activists were arrested.

What started at the Columbia campus has turned into a nationwide showdown between students and administrators over pro-Palestine protests and the restrictions on free speech.

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In the past 10 days, hundreds of students have been arrested, suspended, put on probation and, in rare cases, expelled from colleges, including Yale University, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University and the University of Minnesota.

A few universities have had to cancel graduation ceremonies, while others have seen their buildings occupied by the protesters.

Students taking ‘big risks’

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Princeton University in New Jersey, said “the price of protests can be high” for the students occupying college campuses.

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“Students are taking some big risks at these protests. If they violate university rules, they can be expelled. And here at Princeton, tuition is over $50,000 a year,” he said. “For many of them, it’s an education they have been looking forward to all their lives.”

Princeton student Sam Bisno told Al Jazeera taking such risks showed how “passionate” students were about the issue. “People are willing to put it all on the line. But we know we have the power in numbers,” he said.

People stand near a flower arrangement that reads ‘Free Palestine’ during a protest at the University of Southern California [David Swanson/Reuters]
Momodou Taal was among four students whom Cornell University in New York state “temporarily suspended” on Saturday for setting up an encampment on its campus.

He told Al Jazeera the protesting students received threats and were subjected to doxxing, the posting of the personal information of an individual on the internet without their consent. He said such students received no protection from their institutions.

“We no longer have faith in the administration to be a place safe for Muslim students, for Arab students, for Palestinian students and by and large those students of colour and pro-Palestinian students,” Taal said.

Maysam Elghazali, an organiser of the protests at Emory University in Atlanta, said the demonstrating students had three demands.

“Number one, that Emory disclose all of its financial investments. Number two, that they divest from all Israeli companies, and number three, that they provide continued amnesty and protection to all the students who were unjustly arrested,” she told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, college protests against the “genocide” of the Palestinians in Gaza have also spread to universities in Canada, Europe and Australia.

Canada’s first campus protest camp for Gaza appeared at McGill University in Montreal on Saturday.

Broadcaster CBC reported protesters were demanding McGill and Concordia universities “divest from funds implicated in the Zionist state as well as [cut] ties with Zionist academic institutions”.

Tents were also set up on the front lawn of the University of Sydney last week.

In a statement Vice Chancellor Professor Annamarie Jagose said the university, Australia’s oldest, was committed to the right of protesters to assemble peacefully and express their views.

But she said there was also “zero tolerance for any form of racism, threats to safety, hate speech, intimidation, threatening speech, bullying or unlawful harassment, including antisemitic or anti-Muslim language or behaviour.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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