On Thursday, a gathering to support the hostages of Hamas and a walkout to support Palestine both mounted on College Walk, drawing an increased NYPD presence on campus, renewed gate closures, and additional barricades.

College Walk became the site of two demonstrations yesterday afternoon: a gathering to support those taken hostage by Hamas closely followed by a walkout to support Palestine. Early in the morning, the gate in the middle of the college walk was closed. The pedestrian side gates were open with staff checking IDs.

Around 1 pm, students gathered at the Sundial to call for the return of the hostages in Gaza. Most attendees wore shirts reading “Bring them home now,” and several carried small Israeli flags or wore larger flags draped around their shoulders. The backs of the shirts read “Hostages and Missing Families Forum,” which is the name of a volunteer-based organization that coordinates efforts to fundraise and advocate for the hostages.

Speakers stood on the Sundial and read aloud messages from families of hostages before transitioning into reading aloud, in alphabetical order, the names and ages of the hostages who remain missing. After reading these names, one speaker stated, “Our community showing this solidarity and support means everything to [the families of the hostages]… Don’t forget their names. Don’t forget that these are real people.”

Another speaker asked those present to take posters with images and names of hostages and put them up anywhere on campus. They also spoke about the “One Min A Day” initiative, a digital platform organized by the Hostages Forum that assists Americans in calling their representatives for one minute a day to demand the return of the hostages. “This is separate from the war in Gaza,” they said. “We need these people home now.”

The gathering ended with attendees singing “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel. The organizers then took a picture of everyone at the gathering to send to the families of the hostages before officially ending the event.

Roughly an hour later, around 2 pm, students gathered on the Low Steps as part of a demonstration known as “Shut It Down! For Palestine.” The event, which was advertised as a “peaceful protest art installation,” was organized by a coalition of Columbia student groups,  including the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest, as part of what they called an “international call to action.” The event was also promoted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the groups responsible for organizing earlier on-campus demonstrations, including the campus walkout on October 26.

Members of the Shut It Down protest stand on Low Steps.

As part of the demonstration, five panels of art were displayed in front of Alma Mater. The first panel listed five demands, listed below:

  1. “Publicly call for a ceasefire” 
  2. “Call it a genocide” 
  3. “Cancel [Tel Aviv Global Center]”
  4. “Divest from Apartheid” 
  5. “No more [Tel Aviv University] dual degree.”
Art installation on Low Steps.

The four additional panels depicted Palestinian flags alongside traditional Palestinian imagery and an acknowledgement of the current death toll in Gaza. At the foot of the stairs, students wrote the names of the Gazan civilians who perished from the Israeli bombings on a cardboard panel. Participants waved Palestinian flags and held signs reading “Viva Viva Palestine,” “Divest From Israel,” and “CSSW Students Support Palestinian Resistance,” among others. Flyers were distributed among the crowd with QR Codes leading to email and call prompts organized by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Speakers at the demonstration later elaborated on these demands. In addition to calling for Columbia’s administration to take an official stance in favor of a ceasefire and label the escalation in Gaza a “genocide,” they urged the University to cancel the opening of the Tel Aviv Global Center and its Dual Degree Program with Tel Aviv University, asserting that the programs categorically exclude Arab and Muslim students. The students demanded justice now, shouting “If we don’t get it—shut it down!” The students also hinted at a strike if the University failed to comply with their demands but made no further extrapolation.

Thursday’s protests were met with heightened security measures from the University. A barricade was placed around the Alma Mater statue on Low Steps, and a number of NYPD officers were stationed around campus. Additionally, the main campus gates at 116th and Broadway and 116th and Amsterdam were once again restricted to affiliates, with NYPD officers stationed in front and checking identification. Further campus gates, with the exception of the entrance to Wien Hall, were closed.  

At the Shut It Down protest, a speaker began by calling for students to take out their phones and contact their local senators, governors, and representatives in favor of a ceasefire, stating, “Let them know you, their constituents, will not sit down idly in support of genocide, let them know that your tax dollars can not go to the destruction and ethnic cleansing of your people. Let them know that your support in any future election hinges on this.” 

The speaker from the coalition organized participants onto steps around Alma Mater and moved on to give a speech that underlined, “the administration has been reluctant to approve any event that has been scheduled since October 12” (including a vigil for Palestinian life and a walkout), condemning what they called a continuation of the administration’s “inhumane message that Palestinian lives simply do not matter as evidenced in the persistent refusal to even mention Palestinians in University-wide communication.”

The speaker accused Columbia’s administration of being slow to respond to the coalition’s urgent need for action. According to the speaker, the administration mentioned in their conversations with the coalition that they are open to approving events within three to five business days. However, the coalition says the University has yet to confirm this in writing. The speaker expressed that “Until then, we have conveyed that the 10-business-day rule will not work for us” and “We’re not going to wait for another 2,000 plus Palestinians to be killed.” 

The speaker further stated that the earlier pro-Palestine campus protest on October 12 could be planned on short notice because “the policy makes exceptions for special circumstances for emergencies in the world.” The speaker once again condemned the 10 day policy as “a Palestinian exception for free speech” and requested a “rationale” for the policy update, as well as for“opportunities to be heard on time.” The speaker alleged that the University had employed “intimidation tactics” in the email communications to “quell activism for free Palestine.”

SJP speakers leveled additional accusations at Columbia President Minouche Shafik, Barnard President Laura Rosenbury, and the University’s Board of Trustees, saying they were “using students’ money to support genocide.” The speakers also said, “[our] voice is louder than the money you receive to silence us” and that students shall “no longer pay for slaughter.”

The protest was briefly interrupted by a seemingly unaffiliated individual shouting obscenities. However, the individual was quickly intercepted by students and NYPD officials. Protestors expressed clear disapproval of his antisemitic statements. 

On Low Plaza, a small group of pro-Israeli protesters from the earlier Bring Them Home demonstration gathered opposite the Shut It Down demonstration. Waving Israeli flags, they held up a sign reading, “No Ceasefire until the hostages are returned and Hamas is destroyed.” Previously, the sign holder had been doling out two-page flyers of what he claimed were “primary resources.”

Soon a speaker from the Shut It Down demonstration started a speech describing a childhood experience in which his cousin was killed and he was shot in the leg. He later responded to the counter-protestors’ sign, asking the holder “I see you as a human, why don’t you see my people as humans,” calling for the pro-Israeli protesters to see their shared humanity. The Shut It Down speaker also discouraged anti-semitism, proclaiming that the counter-protestors don’t represent them, saying, “To counter anti-semitism is to unite with us.” The speaker addressed the Jewish students who support Palestinian causes among the crowd, calling for counter-protesters to come together and “join the voice for humanity.” The speaker noted that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and the cause to end the genocide is also a cause beneficial to other cultural groups: “For Jews, Muslims, Christians. No more genocide.”

Additional artwork at the Shut It Down protest.

One protester at the Shut It Down demonstration, who identified as queer and Chinese, told Bwog, “I understand Shut [It] Down as ‘divesting from Israel, striking in workplaces, and blocking arms shipments to Israel. I feel that these things need the involvement of both students and workers. People usually feel that if there’s opposition, it means we’re free, right? But it’s a bit unsettling that no matter what we say or do, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We can’t influence the powerful through ‘democratic’ means like protests, criticism, or raising awareness. By opposing them, we become part of their power structure and are absorbed into an opposition that also justifies the existing system. So I hope that, in addition to shouting loudly, we can also take more concrete actions, such as strikes and blockades, that can truly shake those in power.” 

After the speeches, organizers of the protest staged a one-minute die-in, in which students laid across Low Steps as a visual representation of those who had been killed in Palestine. Before starting the die-in, a speaker told the counter-protesters to back up, claiming “Our freedom won’t allow us to die in front of the flag that kills our people.” After the die-in, protesters gathered together around Alma Mater to call for an end to the occupation of Gaza, and for Columbia administration to “stop the support for genocide.” The demonstrators then sat on Low Steps clapping while shouting out “The people united will never be defeated,” “Israel is a racist state,” “From the river to the sea,” “Minouche Shafik, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” “Ceasefire now,” among other phrases. 

Students participating in a die-in demonstration.

All photos via Bwog Staff