Hundreds of university students arrested in US as Gaza war protests spread

Hundreds of students have been arrested across universities in the United States as protesters continue to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies enabling Israel’s nearly seven-month war on the Palestinian enclave.

Police were out in full force on college campuses on Saturday, some using chemical irritants and Tasers to disperse the students, as more universities witnessed protests against the continued bombing of the Gaza Strip and seeking an end to US military assistance for Israel.

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.

Police clear an encampment on the Northeastern University campus in Boston, early Saturday, April 27, 2024.
Police clear an encampment on the Northeastern University campus in Boston [Michael Casey/AP Photo]

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 school 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 school ID were released and will face disciplinary proceedings, not legal action.

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.

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.

Across the US, university leaders have tried, and largely failed, to quell the demonstrations, which often saw 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.

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 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.

“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 doxing, which refers to the posting of the personal information of an individual on the internet without their consent. He said such students received no protection from their school.

“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 schools in Canada, Europe and Australia.

Canada’s first campus protest camp for Gaza came up 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”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES