Gaza protesters at Columbia defy deadline to leave encampment: ‘We will not be moved unless by force’

Gaza protesters at Columbia defy deadline to leave encampment: ‘We will not be moved unless by force’

Gaza solidarity protesters at Columbia University refused to abandon their encampment after the university’s leaders issued a threat of mass suspensions if they did not leave by 2pm Monday.

“We will not be moved unless by force,” said Sueda Polat, one of the protest organisers, at a defiant press conference at the camp after the deadline had passed.

Hundreds of students are likely to be impacted by the suspensions, which the university administration announced earlier on Monday after negotiations between the protest organisers and the university broke down.

A university spokesperson said Monday evening that it had “begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus. “

The sweeping punishment would ban the protesters from all their classes, from the campus and campus accommodations and, if they are eligible, from graduating. University Commencement is on May 14.

“I think it’s terrible that we keep getting threatened with suspension and arrest for speaking out against an ongoing genocide, so yeah we’re worried,” said Muhammad Hemeida, a student protester at Columbia.

“But I also think that at this moment we feel that we have inspired a movement that brought worldwide attention to the ongoing genocide of almost 40,000 people ,” he added.

The decision by the university administration comes as protests continue to spread to college campuses across the US in protest over Israel’s war in Gaza, and following a brutal crackdown by police that led to hundreds of arrests.

Columbia University handed out letters to protesters in the encampment on Monday warning the protesters of their suspension if they didn’t leave and sign a document that declared their departure before the deadline.

“It is important for you to know that the University has already identified many students in the encampment. If you do not identify yourself upon leaving and sign the form now, you will not be eligible to complete the semester in good standing,” the letter said.

“If you do not leave by 2p.m., you will be suspended pending further investigation,” it added.

Protesters responded to the letter by scrawling messages and pinning them to the fence surrounding the camp.


When 2pm arrived, the protest encampment remained and was buoyed by hundreds of Columbia students who surrounded it in support. Faculty members were also pictured linking arms around the encampment while the NYPD gathered outside of campus and helicopters buzzed overhead.

Ms Polat, an organiser involved in the negotiations, said at a press conference that threat of suspensions were “attempts to stifle the student movement.”

“The university has conducted itself with obstinacy and arrogance, refusing to be flexible on some of our most basic points,” she said.

“That said, we were engaging in good faith negotiation until the administration cut them off under threat of suspensions.”

A spokesperson from Columbia University declined to comment when asked by The Independent if the suspensions were now in effect.

Student protests over the war in Gaza have been common across college campuses since the war in Gaza broke out in October, following a surprise Hamas attack that killed 1,200 in Israel. The resulting war has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and aid blockages have resulted in famine conditions in northern Gaza, creating a humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of schools, and all of Gaza’s 12 universities, have been damaged or destroyed since the Israeli attacks began.