Protesters occupy Columbia building as university standoff escalates

Demonstrators take over Hamilton Hall in escalation of antiwar protests.

A student waves a large Palestinian flag on the Columbia University campus in New York, April 29, 2024 [Stefan Jeremiah/AP Photo]Published On 30 Apr 202430 Apr 2024

Students have taken over a building at Columbia University as the standoff between protesters against Israel’s war on Gaza and the varsity authorities escalates.

Protesters moved to occupy Hamilton Hall at the university in New York early on Tuesday after the management said it had begun suspending students who had refused to meet a deadline to disperse on Monday. The move threatens to escalate the standoff, which has seen protests over the Gaza war spread across the country.

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Video footage showed protesters on Columbia’s Manhattan campus locking arms in front of Hamilton Hall early on Tuesday and carrying furniture and metal barricades to the building.

Dozens of protesters barricaded the entrances and unfurled a Palestinian flag out of a window. Hamilton Hall, which protestors said they have now dubbed “Hind Hall,” is one of several buildings that was previously occupied during a 1968 civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus.

“An autonomous group reclaimed Hind’s Hall, previously known as ‘Hamilton Hall,’ in honor of Hind Rajab, a martyr murdered at the hands of the genocidal Israeli state at the age of six years old,” Columbia University’s Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a coalition representing pro-Palestinian student organisations, posted on X.

Student radio station WKCR-FM broadcast a play-by-play of the hall’s takeover, which occurred hours after the protesters defied the Monday 2pm deadline to leave the encampment of about 120 tents or face suspension. Columbia says it has now begun enacting that threat.

Protesters said on X that students plan to remain at the hall until the university concedes to their demands: complete divestment from finances in Israel, transparency about financial ties to the country, and amnesty from any disciplinary measures for all students participating in the protests.

“We demand our voices be heard against the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza,” their post said, adding that they hold Columbia University as “complicit in this violence and this is why we protest”.

Universities across the US are grappling with growing protests with an eye on end-of-year commencement ceremonies.

Some are continuing negotiations, while others have turned to ultimatums and force, which has resulted in clashes with police.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies