US police break up Gaza protest encampment at George Washington University

Police say arrests made in Washington, DC, as US-wide crackdown continues on student-led demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Police stand near where they cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment
Police officers are deployed near a Gaza solidarity encampment that they cleared at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2024 [Kent Nishimura/Getty Images via AFP]

Police in the United States capital have broken up a student protest encampment at George Washington University, one of dozens of tent camps set up on campuses across the country in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, said in a statement that it “moved to disperse” demonstrators on Wednesday morning after “a gradual escalation in the volatility of the protest”. It did not elaborate on what exactly that means.

“During the course of the operation, arrests were made for Assault on a Police Officer and Unlawful Entry,” the department said.

Police Chief Pamela Smith said during a news conference later on Wednesday that 33 arrests were made.

The Gaza encampment at George Washington University is one of dozens that have sprung up around the world since late April in protest of Israel’s war on the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Students across the US as well as in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere are demanding an end to Israel’s military offensive, which has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians since early October.

They are also calling on their universities to divest from any companies that are complicit in Israeli human rights abuses, among other demands.

The arrests at George Washington University are part of a wave of similar police crackdowns on US college campuses, including New York’s Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the University of California at Los Angeles.

University administrators have accused pro-Palestinian demonstrators of using anti-Semitic language and creating an unsafe environment on campus.

The students have rejected those claims, which they say aim to distract people from what is happening in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s meant to take the focus away from the genocide in Gaza, and it is meant to take the focus away from our demands,” Mariam, a Jewish student demonstrator at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera late last week.

US politicians – including President Joe Biden, a Democrat and staunch backer of Israel – have criticised the Gaza encampments.

Republican James Comer, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability in the House of Representatives, had planned to hold a hearing on the response to the George Washington University encampment on Wednesday.

But after the police dispersed the pro-Palestinian protesters, the session, which would have heard testimony from the mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel Bowser, and Smith, the head of MPD, was cancelled.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Comer said he thanked the mayor “for finally clearing” the encampment and credited the planned hearing with applying pressure on officials to act.

Source: Al Jazeera