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Roving Periscope: Pro-Palestinians ‘take over’ Columbia varsity hall in the US!

Roving Periscope: Pro-Palestinians ‘take over’ Columbia varsity hall in the US!

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: It does not happen only in India—ahead of elections—when anarchists of all hues masquerade as “students,” pick up “causes” to hog the limelight, and spark chaos in educational institutions, their soft launchpad for a career in full-time politics.

Just six months ahead of the presidential elections in the United States, also, the escalating pro-Palestinian demonstrations took a new turn on Monday when hundreds of “external actors” seized Hamilton Hall, renamed it “Hinds Hall” at Columbia University, and barricaded themselves inside, in a bid to force the authorities to accept their demands.

According to the media reports, these alleged protesters at Columbia University laid siege to an academic building, barricaded themselves inside, and raised pro-Palestine banners. The scene of the latest demonstration was the iconic Hamilton Hall.

The videos from the campus showed protesters using furniture to barricade doors, with hundreds camping outside the building to selectively protest against the ongoing Gaza War, triggered by Hamas terrorists’ invasion of Israel on October 7, 2023, killing over 1,200 Israelis and taking home some 250 hostages, most of whom are still in their custody. Over 34,000 Gazans have died in Israeli counter-attacks since, and over a million internally displaced people now face starvation.

A white banner with ‘Hinds Hall’ written on it was seen hanging from the Hamilton Hall building, in memory of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old girl who died in Gaza earlier this year.

The Hamilton building has been at the heart of campus movements in the past as well. It was the first that hundreds of students seized in April 1968 during protests over the Vietnam War.

It once again took center stage as the weeks of pro-Palestine protests at Columbia University, as well as other US campuses, showed no signs of abating despite hundreds of arrests and threats of sanctions.

A video showed protestors breaking the glass door before they barricaded themselves inside the hall. They also draped a Palestine flag from the window.

The protestors and the academic leaders have held talks but failed to agree.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik on Monday said the encampment has “created an unwelcoming environment for many of our Jewish students and faculty. External actors have contributed to creating a hostile environment in violation of Title VI, especially around our gates, that is unsafe for everyone — including our neighbors.”

Urging demonstrators to “voluntarily disperse”, Shafik said the university has “no intention of suppressing speech or the right to peaceful protest.”

The protesters have been demanding a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, an end to US military assistance for Israel, and university divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s incursion.

This episode was the fallout of the administration’s clampdown on encampments over the Israeli assault on Gaza following the October 7 attack by terrorist group Hamas.

Despite this anarchy and chaos, Shafik refused to capitulate to protesters’ demands and cracked down on ongoing protests.

“This time, students and community have deployed a multi-level occupation of Hamilton Hall: barricading themselves inside the building, bolting and tying the doors, and renaming it Hind’s Hall in honor of Hind Rajab, and honor of all of our martyrs. We affirm that we will not cower to Columbia’s threats and that we will continue to escalate until divestment is met,” the protestors declared.

The crackdown at Columbia, at the center of Gaza-related protests roiling university campuses across the US in recent weeks, occurred as police at the University of Texas at Austin arrested dozens of students whom they doused with pepper spray at a pro-Palestinian rally.

During the 1968 protests at Columbia University, Hamilton Hall served as a focal point and symbol of student activism. Situated in the heart of the Morningside Heights campus, the building became a site of intense demonstrations and occupations by students protesting against the university’s involvement in the Vietnam War via military research and its expansion into neighboring Harlem communities.

The protests, which culminated in the occupation of several campus buildings, including Hamilton Hall, marked a pivotal moment in the history of student activism and civil rights movements in the United States.

The occupation of Hamilton Hall and subsequent negotiations between student protesters and university administrators brought national attention to issues of academic freedom, racial equality, and the role of universities in society.


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