‘We won’t stop’: How Columbia University students carved a new legacy of Gaza protests | Israel’s Gaza War News

New York, USA — Around 10pm on Monday, April 29th, I decided to call it a night.

My student journalist colleagues and I spent the past few days staying late into the night on Columbia University’s campus to talk about the story that captured the world’s attention: pro-Palestinian protests and encampments that sparked similar campaigns in schools across the country. I was interviewing about. The state and the world.

As I left the campus with my camera bag on my back and started walking beside the camp, I received information from a demonstrator passing by that they would be there until about midnight. “But you can go home first.”

Understood. I went back home to charge my backup camera battery and got a spare memory card before heading back to campus.

Back in Colombia, it appeared that more than one of us had received the information. A large group of student journalists, wearing matching paper badges and blue tape on their clothes, waited next to the camp no matter what happened. Our journalism faculty stood by us, as they have always done.

The protesters split into “platoons” and kept an eye on different locations, unsure of what to expect.

We split up to make sure we covered different spots. Some of us stranded in Pulitzer Hall, home of Columbia Journalism School, where a small group of protesters had gathered, while others waited with cameras and recorders near the camp. .

That’s how it all started. Campers began to carry their tents from the grass. A group started singing. On the other side of the lawn, another person was singing a protest hymn. I was with a small group of journalists who followed the tent to another small lawn, but this was a clever decoy, whether intentional or not, and many of us were left with protesters on the other side of campus. They missed the moment when they entered Hamilton Hall.

When we ran over, dozens of student demonstrators had gathered outside the building to wrestle weapons. His predecessors took over the building in 1968 to protest the Vietnam War, and in 1985 to demand that Colombia leave businesses with ties to the apartheid South. Africa.

Two of my colleagues were in the middle of the scrum, watching toward the door as two counter-protesters tried to stop the occupation before being pushed out. Protesters pushed metal picnic tables, wooden chairs, trash cans and planters against the door and tied them with zip ties, effectively forming a barricade.

Two masked people appeared from the second-floor balcony to cheers and applause. They unfurled a hand-painted sign reading “House of Hind,” named after a 6-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed along with her family in a car in Gaza in January while fleeing an Israeli military attack.

That night, I fell asleep on the floor of my sixth-floor classroom in Pulitzer Hall, listening to the echoes of songs coming from Hamilton Hall. It’s just one voice coming from Hamilton Hall, amplified through a megaphone. “The world didn’t give me this joy.” That to me…the world can’t take it away. ”

Student protesters play music at Columbia University encampment in New York City [Yasmeen Altaji/NDMT]

final offer

The morning before had a completely different feel. Columbia University’s South Lawn was packed, and the small protest village in the center of campus — the dozens of tents and tarps that make up the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” — was buzzing with activity in its first two weeks of construction.

The protests are rooted in a decades-long movement demanding Palestinian rights in their homeland and holding Israel accountable for its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The current campaign against Israel’s war in Gaza, in which more than 34,000 people have been killed, is forcing Columbia University to establish an Israeli-related organization, just as the university did in apartheid South Africa after similar protests 40 years ago. The aim is also to pressure companies to withdraw from the company. .

When I was covering the protests, I heard a variety of sounds in the encampment. On some days, chants of the (Islamic) Adhan or (Jewish) Passover prayer could be heard. Or the sound of doumbek (drums) and sharp violins that echo the microtonal hymns of Palestinian folk music or the classic Andalusian mwashisha. The speakers amplified the melodies of iconic musicians like Abdelhalim Hafez and Fairuz.

Demonstrators shared donated hot meals spread out on tarpaulins in what could be called a “cornucopia” of pizzas, samosas, bagels and eggs, bags of oranges and cracker containers, muffins and cookies. did.

One camper set up a makeshift nail salon and applied red, white, black and green nail polish to match the Palestinian flag. Cardboard “road signs” mark the narrow spaces between rows of tents as “Walid Dhaka Road,” named after the Palestinian novelist and activist who died of cancer in April while in Israeli custody. I named it.

At the Lawn Center, organizers regularly updated a whiteboard to reflect the day’s scheduled activities: Duhur prayers and Shabbat dinners with jazz.

On a patch of grass near the campus’s main walk, an “art guild” was busy with protesters painting signs, painting keffiyehs, and decorating and customizing tent spaces.

But that Monday, the campers received a final offer from university officials led by President Nemat “Minoush” Shafik to evacuate now and avoid suspension. Campers disobeyed orders.

And by Monday night, the morning’s din had faded to roars and whispers, and the eruption had reached its climax, occupying Hamilton Hall. At the campground, the zipper-flap doors of empty tents swayed in the wind. The blanket lay crumpled next to the pillow, still dented from a nap. The only LED lantern lit on the ground, a paintbrush covered in dried red and green acrylic stuck to a paper plate.

This community, unlike the “outside media” who were only allowed on campus for a two-hour window each day since the camp was set up, student journalists like myself at Columbia School of Journalism This is a community that I continued to closely monitor. Undergraduate students from student publications such as WKCR and Columbia Daily Spectator also participated.

By increasing the focus on its members, the community sought to emphasize that it was not a story. Signs planted across the lawn read: “All eyes on Gaza.”

But over the next 24 hours, the world’s eyes on Colombia only intensified.

Students, including a student journalist, are trapped in the entrance vestibule of John Jay Hall at Columbia University, New York, Tuesday, April 30, 2023. [Yasmeen Altaji/NDMT]
Students trapped outside the front door of Columbia University’s John Jay Hall on Tuesday, April 30, 2023, in New York. [Yasmeen Altaji/NDMT]

raid

Tuesday morning started off eerily quiet. The camp was empty except for a few protesters, and Hamilton Hall looked sleepy, the only movement coming from a banner hanging from the side of the building that read “INTIFADA.”

Just a few days ago, long before the Hamilton Hall occupation, the Colombian government sent out a notice claiming: Who would threaten our community? ”

The memo was met with disbelief from protesters. After all, the university had already called police to campus in April for the first time in more than 50 years to try to clear the encampment. More than 100 students were arrested.

Instead, I’m told, organizers are advising campers to stuff their belongings in trash bags and write their phone number on their arm in case they get arrested.

By Tuesday night, their fears would become reality. New York City police entered the Columbia University campus just after 9pm on Tuesday (1am on Wednesday, Japan time).

Students linked arms and sang together in anticipation, the harmonies of “We Shall not be moving” merging with the march of hundreds of police officers marching in formation toward Hamilton Hall.

Calls to disperse or face arrest, via long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), echoed through the campus plaza, always interlaced with the floating strains of protest hymns, inviting anyone on campus to come. I remember hearing bugs in my ears.

Protesters in suburban Hamilton braced for arrest. But when the officers arrived, they turned away from them and instead faced us, the onlookers and reporters.

The police officer instructed us to leave the area. We walked backwards to capture everything on video. One police officer said, “It’s easier to face forward.” “Turn around so you don’t fall,” the others shouted over and over again. “Let’s go in,” said another. “Please go back to your dorm.”

As we turned our backs to the door of the building at the end of the courtyard where Hamilton was located, the door opened and the officers raised their batons and gave us a final push until we were all inside. We were momentarily disoriented before we realized where we were. It’s inside an undergraduate dormitory called John Jay Hall.

This is where the student health center, cafeteria, and late-night campus cafeteria are located. But we didn’t see anything like that. While police were guarding the entrance front door to the building in front of us, campus security was guarding the rest of the building behind us, restricting access to dorm residents. I did.

There were about 30 or 40 of us crammed into a small vestibule, so ventilation was poor. You won’t be able to reach the bathroom. A red arrow pointed to an emergency exit, but the door was blocked by police. My cell phone battery was running out. And, most pressingly for us journalists, we couldn’t see Hamilton beyond the body of the police officer standing in John Jay’s glass door.

For about three hours, the students kicked in the front door, hunched over on the ground against a wall and slept using their backpacks as pillows. One student sat cross-legged on the floor, sobbing quietly as his friend comforted him.

After three hours in that hall, we were released and the officers led us to dormitories and buildings whose names and locations we did not know. “We know you want to get out of here. Thank you,” one said.

As I left campus around 1:30 a.m., I passed workers carrying tents off the South Lawn and loading them into garbage trucks, which smashed them on the spot.

Remains

There was no sense of tension on Wednesday, only disappointment. The campus was quiet, but not peaceful. It was completely empty. No one was allowed through the campus gates except for residents and essential staff who assured us that we were considered by the School of Journalism as student journalists.

Where the camp had once been, only a trace of discolored grass in the shape of a rectangular tent base remained.

However, the movement does not seem like a ghost. On Wednesday, protesters hosted a “light show” on the side of campus and projected the title “Hinde’s Hall Forever” onto the public side of Hamilton Hall.

Every year, on the eve of exams, students gather on campus to raise what is known as the “primordial cry.” On Thursday, they brought the tradition to Shafiq’s home and shouted it outside his door.

On Friday, protesters again lined up on the street outside the Columbia Gate. And the words “Disclose, sell, we will not stop, we will not rest” still echoed in the neighborhood.

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