At 4 am on Wednesday, April 17, Columbia students constructed a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” in protest of the University’s response to pro-Palestinian students. Protests began at 10 am on Wednesday and continued through Thursday, overlapping with the time of Minouche Shafik’s testimony before Congress regarding antisemitism at Columbia. 

Early this morning, Columbia students woke up to see tents occupying East Butler Lawn, a patch of land that protesters are calling the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” Also referred to as the “Liberated Zone,” pro-Palestinian demonstrators have “taken back [the] campus,” according to an Instagram post by Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) and Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), among others. 

The post stated that the Gaza Solidarity Encampment will remain until Columbia divests all its finances from “companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.” The Encampment is composed of nearly 50 tents, a “dining hall” tent, numerous banners and posters, and a supply of food and other necessary items. A large poster reads, “We demand: 1. Financial divestment, 2. Academic boycott, 3. Stop the displacement, 4. No policing on campus,” and “5. End the silence.”

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment coincides with Wednesday’s congressional hearing on antisemitism at Columbia. President Minouche Shafik, Task Force on Antisemitism Co-Chair David Schizer, and Board of Trustees Claire Shipman and David Greenwald testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce today. 

At 4 am, six hours before the hearing was set to begin, students occupied campus, drawing inspiration from the 1968 occupation of Hamilton Hall. A large white tent in the middle of East Butler Lawn displays a banner titled “Liberated Zone,” mirroring the designation from the 1968 encampment.

In anticipation of protests related to the hearing, the University instituted campus gate closures for the entire week. All Columbia gates were closed except for those at 116th and Broadway, 116th and Amsterdam, Earl Hall, and Wien Hall, where CUID swipe access was required to enter. Barnard also instituted swipe-only access to campus and Hamilton Hall required students to individually swipe CUIDs to enter with Public Safety staff stationed at the entrance to the building. 

At around 9:30 am, Columbia SJP posted to Instagram stating that the Columbia administration planned to turn on the sprinklers of East Butler Lawn, which ultimately did not occur. At 10 am, a speaker held a teach-in from the Encampment, surrounded by groups of listening demonstrators. The teach-in called out Cas Holloway, Chief Operating Officer at Columbia University, denouncing Holloway’s “support” for “genocide.” Meanwhile, individuals lined the fences surrounding East Butler Lawn in order to watch. NYPD officers blocked entrances to the lawn, while an unidentified helicopter briefly hovered above campus. A large military-style aircraft was also seen flying low to the ground. 

After the teach-in concluded, a student exclaimed, “We call on all faculty, all staff members, and all community members of Columbia University to join us on this lawn.” Subsequently, the crowd began chanting “Join us.” During this time, one speaker claimed that the protests will continue until Columbia loses its “reliability” and “funding.” One speaker stated that “Every time the media lies, a neighborhood in Gaza dies,” critiquing recent media coverage of Gaza. Protesters also urged both the US and Columbia University to end the “war machine.” Speakers also denounced the administration’s suspension of “five marginalized students,” referring to recent suspensions after the “Resistance 101” event.

As the morning progressed, the number of demonstrators grew, many holding signs, waving Palestinian flags, and chanting. Protesters yelled, “Israel is a racist state,” “Long live the intifada,” “No more money for Israel’s crimes,” “Israel go to hell,” “Our education fails without academic freedom,” and “We want liberation, shut the whole thing down,” among others. Throughout the protest, demonstrators used noisemakers, including drums and cowbells. At around noon, protesters began picketing, circling East Butler Lawn and chanting.

Two counter-protesters arrived, waving an Israeli flag and yelling on a megaphone:, “Terrorists go home” and “Supporting rape is not progressive.” Pro-Palestinian demonstrators booed the counter-protesters, one demonstrator engaging with the counter-protester, saying, “You’re an embarrassment to the Jewish people.” Counter-protesters asked pro-Palestinian demonstrators “Do you condemn Hamas?” through a megaphone, and were blocked from entering the lawns by pro-Palestinian protesters holding hands. They played music and used drums and noisemakers to drown out the counter-protesters’ remarks. The music played continuously throughout the protest.

Wednesday’s protest was underscored with uncertainty about the role NYPD and Public Safety would take. CUAD and SJP claimed in an Instagram post that organizers were told to leave at 11 am. In an Instagram story around 1 pm, SJP announced that the University “has called in the NYPD to begin arresting hundreds of students.” Simultaneously, NYPD correction buses were spotted on Amsterdam Avenue. Just after 3 pm, a campus alert announced that the 116th and Broadway gate would close at 4 pm. Ultimately, access was restricted around 3:15 pm. 

Organizers walked throughout the crowd of listeners, handing out stickers and offering water and assistance. Students regularly delivered food, water, blankets, and sweatshirts to those inside the Encampment, as requested on CUAD and SJP’s Instagrams. Demonstrators and listeners gathered to sing songs and clap in solidarity, singing, “Where you go I will go, your people are my people.” 

In the afternoon, various speakers spoke from the Encampment. One discussed the role of Palestinian stone workers in constructing Israeli buildings. Another speaker stated that “this University has done nothing to protect its Arab, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Pro-Palestinian students,” calling campus a “fascist police state” and “hypermilitarized.” A third speaker took to the megaphone, describing how in late February, the University rejected a request for divestment. “They said we didn’t have consensus,” the speaker stated. “But I don’t know—I’m looking around, and I’m feeling pretty good!” The speaker ended by calling on all listeners to “vote yes for divestment,” referring to the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) referendum

Throughout speeches, students yelled “shame” on the University, periodically stopping to chant. Various chants included: “We don’t want no two state, we want 48,” “Minouche Shafik open your eyes, you’re supporting genocide,” and “Israel bombs, Columbia pays, how many kids have you killed today?” One chant recited by students was “Minouche Minouche, what do you say, do you care about keeping us safe?”, recalling Shafik’s statement at today’s hearing regarding safety being her top priority. A demonstrator turned to look at the classrooms, stating, “This is for everyone in the classrooms right now,” beginning to chant, “While you’re learning, Gaza’s burning.” 

Shortly after 3 pm, demonstrators called for students to stay overnight in the encampment. Subsequently, students began picketing around the lawn once again, holding signs such as “Barnard College censors free speech” and “Ceasefire now.” The crowd thinned out somewhat after rainfall began.

Meanwhile, the national branch of SJP posted an announcement to Instagram, asking for non-affiliates to protest on 116th and Broadway and 116th and Amsterdam beginning at 2 pm. Gradually, protesters traveled from East Butler Lawn to 116th and Broadway, joining non-affiliates. Those who remained on East Butler Lawn chatted amongst each other, preparing their tents for the evening.

The protesters on 116th and Broadway continued to chant, yelling, “NYPD, KKK, IOF, they’re all the same” and “NYPD, go to hell.” Pro-Palestinian protesters were situated within barricades in front of Dodge Hall and on the corresponding median; whereas pro-Israel protesters gathered a crowd in front of Pulitzer Hall and its corresponding median. Pedestrian traffic struggled to maintain itself throughout the protests as Earl Gates on 117th Street remained the only Broadway gate open. Meanwhile, the turnstile entrance to Lerner became congested, a line forming outside the building onto the sidewalk. 

Around 7:30 pm, fliers were distributed to demonstrators who were identified as potential Barnard students. On behalf of the Barnard administration, demonstrators were told to leave the Encampment area by 9 pm, or else face suspension. The flier explained that once suspended, the student would lose access to their CUID and be prohibited from engaging in University privileges. It is unclear whether or not Columbia students have received similar notices.

Fliers distributed to demonstrators.

As of 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 17, this protest is still ongoing. This is a developing story.

Update made on Wednesday, April 17 at 9:17 pm:

Demonstrators were reportedly given a deadline to leave the Encampment by 9 pm or face suspension. At 9 pm, students gathered around the Encampment to support demonstrators in wake of the deadline, alternating between chanting and pausing to pray. No known suspensions have occurred yet.

Update made on Wednesday, April 17 at 9:53 pm:

Demonstrators have reportedly won one of their demands—to have full financial transparency from the University. They are now advocating for a second demand—amnesty for suspended and evicted students.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 9:50 am:

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment has survived the night. Demonstrators within the Encampment have reportedly voted unanimously not to leave until all their demands are met. Organizers asked students not to swipe into campus with their CUIDs. Organizers remarked, “the NYPD and the administration have threatened us 4 times today,” reportedly referring to threats of arrest and suspension.

At around 10 pm, Bwog interviewed an anonymous student involved with the demonstration. “I am extremely proud of the students willing to sacrifice so much to make change in the world,” she said, a feeling coexisting with her worry about the safety of her peers. “If [the University] tr[ies] to take action. I am here to take witness to that… By disrupting normal proceedings, a statement is made,” she told Bwog.

Bwog also spoke to an anonymous Palestinian student from Gaza involved in the demonstration. “As Palestinians in our own cities, towns, and land, our voices have been silenced, our movements policed by checkpoints, and our identities suppressed under a constant threat of ethnic cleansing,” she told Bwog. “Though there were attempts to bring these tactics here, it was clear that it would not work because our fellow students have shown us that they truly are Palestinian both in body and spirit. It showed me that there is truly still hope. I pray for my fellow students and their safety. I hope they know how much pride they give Columbians: past, present, and future.”

Meanwhile, a group of non-affiliates was still gathered outside the 116th and Broadway gates, at least past 1 am. NYPD officers stood outside the gates with riot gear and batons, but did not move towards the Encampment. At one point shortly after midnight, a protester outside the gates got into a verbal altercation with an NYPD officer, telling the officer, “I hope you get PTSD.” The officer responded, “You first.” NYPD officers were also observed mockingly chanting “Free, free Palestine,” remarking, “That shit go hard.”

At around 1 am, demonstrators at the Encampment started setting up a projector to screen a movie. Student supporters got comfortable, setting out picnic blankets and chatting amongst each other. SJP and CUAD provided intermittent updates through their Instagram, calling via Instagram story at 7 am for more students to join to “relieve [the] current group that has stayed through the night.” SJP and CUAD also called for people to bring warm blankets, sweatshirts, leggings, and warm drinks.

Demonstrators early Thursday morning.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 10:15 am:

According to the SJP and CUAD Instagrams, “at least 5” arrests have been made this morning outside the 116th and Broadway gates. Bwog has contacted the NYPD and is unable to confirm arrests.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 2:16 pm:

According to a post on the SJP and CUAD Instagram accounts, a Columbia SJP organizer and two Barnard students have reportedly been suspended and evicted from housing for their participation in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

Barnard administration said in an email to students at 12:30 pm Wednesday that multiple warnings have been administered to students participating in the Encampment, and they have “started to place identified Barnard students remaining in the encampment on interim suspension” and “will continue to do so.”

Around 1 pm, NYPD officers entered the Encampment, requiring all participants to sit in the center of the lawn prior to making arrests. Supporters stood around the lawn chanting “the people united will never be defeated” and “shame on you” at police.

At 1:58 pm, students in the Encampment were escorted off and into NYPD vans campus by officers. Earlier Wednesday morning, Shafik sent an email to students writing that she authorized the deployment of NYPD due to “extraordinary circumstances.”

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 2:36 pm:

Around 10:15 am Wednesday, Columbia President Minouche Shafik sent an email to students announcing her decision to authorize NYPD officers to “begin clearing the encampment… set up by students in the early hours of Wednesday morning.”

In the email, Shafik wrote that the establishment of the Encampment violated “a long list of rules and policies,” requiring action to be taken. Additionally, she recounted attempts made by University administration to clear the Encampment on Wednesday evening, as they notified students of a 9 pm cutoff after which they would “face suspension pending investigation.” The University tried to “engage with their concerns and offered to continue discussions if they agreed to disperse.”

Shafik recalled the updates made to campus demonstration policies in order to “balance the rights of students to express political views with the need to protect other students from rhetoric that amounts to harassment and discrimination,” emphasizing that the current Encampment is in violation. The Encampment also “disrupts campus life, and creates a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students,” she wrote.

She concluded by saying that the policies around campus demonstration serve to maintain a the safety and functioning of the University, while also protecting students’ right to protest. Prior to taking action with NYPD, Shafik stated that she “complied with the requirements of Section 444 of the University Statutes,” which requires that the President collaborate with a panel established by the University Senate executive committee before authorizing external parties to aid in the maintenance of campus safety.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 2:41 pm:

After the arrests were made, students began jumping over to West Butler Lawn, forming a line to occupy the area. Other students marched towards Low Steps, chanting “Free Palestine,” “Shut it down,” and “From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever.”

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 2:56 pm:

Shortly after their arrival on the lawns around 1 pm, NYPD officers began handcuffing and zip-typing the wrists of protesters, who were singing and chanting along with a large group of spectators surrounding the Encampment. One protester was carried out by their arms and legs by four NYPD officers. Police notified students that they would be “Placed under arrest for trespassing” if they entered the Encampment, going on to state that resisting arrest may result in additional charges. Legal observers outside the Encampment were also reportedly arrested. At this time, students and non-affiliate observers began gathering on 114th Street where police buses were stationed, attempting to record students being led onto the buses. Police blocked the view of observers.

Counter-protesters stood on the steps around the Sundial chanting “Take him,” “Arrest him,” and “USA” as a student inside the Encampment was being arrested. Around 1:55 pm, more arrested students were escorted off the lawns as supporters continued to chant “Shame on you,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever.” As the arrested students were escorted to the NYPD buses, a group of supporters moved to picket around the police vehicles.

At about 2:15 pm, students concentrated around the central lawn in front of Butler Library, chanting “Shut it down,” and “Disclose, divest; we will not stop, we will not rest.” They then jumped over fences onto West Butler Lawn, forming a line and linking arms with each other. Counter protesters waved US and Israeli flags.

NYPD and Public Safety officers began taking down the tents in the Encampment around 2:25 pm. Protesters then began marching around the West Butler Lawn and chanting. 

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 3:06 pm:

According to the New York Times, US Representative Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Barnard junior Isra Hirsi, was one of the students suspended for involvement in the Encampment.

Philosopher and Columbia professor Cornel West has joined the group on West Butler Lawn and is giving a speech to listeners.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 4:00 pm:

Demonstrators are still gathered on West Butler Lawn, chanting “Campus is our home.” Participants write numbers of lawyers on each other’s arms; others pray. A speaker calls for amnesty for suspended Columbia students, as well as Columbia professors and workers. “No firing our professors!” they say.

Other protesters are picketing outside 116th and Broadway gates. “Move cops, get out of the way, we know you’re Israeli trained,” they shout. Meanwhile, NYPD correctional buses line the street.

Arrested students are reportedly being taken to One Police Plaza, the NYPD headquarters downtown. Bwog has not been able to confirm this report.

Update made on Thursday, April 18 at 4:35 pm:

Further updates can be read here.

All photos via Bwog Staff