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Pro-Palestine protests heat up in U.S. despite crackdowns

BEIJING | Xinhua | Protests against Israel’s military actions in Gaza have intensified across multiple American universities for over a week, calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip as well as the cessation of U.S. military aid to Israel.

The growing protests underscore latest escalations in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which, coupled with the Biden administration’s doubles down on Israel support, have fueled anti-war sentiments within the United States, with public dissatisfaction with the government mounting rapidly.

However, what faces the almost peaceful protests are tough measures from the universities and local authorities, with over 700 individuals having been arrested so far.

PROTESTS BOILING

On April 17, student protesters opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza have camped out on the Columbia University campus, calling for the university to financially divest from companies and institutions that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.”

In just 10 days, universities across more than 30 states in the United States have been swept by waves of protests. As reported by Bloomberg, as of Friday, there are at least 50 sit-ins at colleges across the country, spanning from Ivy League institutions to state schools nationwide.

On Thursday, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the top public universities in the United States, hundreds of protesters gathered and built a protest encampment in support of Palestinians.

Protesters displayed signs on campus with slogans such as “Let Gaza live,” “This is not war, this is genocide,” and “Stop the massacres,” calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and for the universities to disclose and divest financial holdings tied to Israel and U.S. weapons makers.

The UCLA rally came one day after another pro-Palestinian protest against the Israeli war in Gaza at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Los Angeles campus, where over 90 protesters were arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department in hours of clashing.

“Shame on you! Shame on you!” demonstrators chanted as the police took away students and off-campus activists.

The USC is not the only place where local authorities have taken tough measures against protesters. According to the New York Times, since the nationwide protest erupted on April 17, hundreds of students from nearly 20 U.S. universities have been arrested.

In Texas, police bulldozed into student protesters at the University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday. More than 50 people were arrested, reported local media outlet Austin American-Statesman.

Meanwhile, many university administrations have been actively working to shut down the demonstration and, in some cases, punish participants.

Amid widespread protests on campuses, the USC on Thursday canceled its main stage graduation ceremony for students that had been planned for May 10. This decision came after Muslim student Asna Tabassum was barred from delivering her valedictorian speech due to her public advocacy for supporting Palestine.

Such crackdowns and punishment have sparked a backlash from professors. With hundreds of pro-Palestine students arrested and more and more campus protests disbanded, educators are increasingly showing support for students.

“Rather than respond to faculty and student concerns about the canceling of Asna Tabassum’s valedictorian speech and the arrest of peaceful protesters, the USC has unfortunately doubled down on its authoritarian approach and simply canceled an aspect of graduation that students earned and looked forward to,” USC assistant sociology professor Brittany Friedman was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

“It is disheartening to see the current state of higher education in our country, the mass exposure of students to police violence, and the complete disregard for what the USC claims to stand for,” said the professor.

In New York, some New York University educators were arrested shortly after shielding Muslim students as they prayed, while professors at the City University of New York physically united to create a barrier separating their students from the police.

“To get to our students, you have to get through us,” they chanted in unison.

In fact, the protests are not limited to the United States. Following the Columbia encampments, the protests have further spread to universities from France to Australia. In Australia, for example, students from the University of Sydney set up pro-Palestine encampments and unfurled banners reading “Columbia First, USYD next,” while University of Melbourne students pitched tents on the south lawn of their main campus.

The Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip has so far left more than 34,000 dead and about 77,000 wounded, most of whom were women and children.

While the anti-war protesters continue to demonstrate their sympathies over the civilian casualties as they refuse to yield in the face of crackdowns, the response from the U.S. administration and certain politicians seems indifferent to public sentiment.

On Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson called on Columbia University’s president to resign. “We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks. Those who are perpetrating this violence should be arrested,” he said.

While responding with excessive and vehement condemnation of domestic peaceful protests, the U.S. administration turns a deaf ear to the cries from Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed a 95-billion-USD foreign aid bill recently, in which 26 billion U.S. dollars go to Israel despite international criticism over the civilian casualties the Israeli army caused in Gaza.

Weapons to Israel remain “sacrosanct” in Washington, and the aid package highlights a “huge gap” between Democrats in Congress and rank-and-file voters, including those currently protesting at colleges nationwide, Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, was quoted by The Hills as saying.

They’re calling on all the other parties in the region to be restrained, whereas they “encourage Israelis to act with total impunity,” Sina Toossi, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy think tank, told Al Jazeera TV. ■

 

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