US: Gaza protests coincide with University of Michigan graduation

US: Gaza protests coincide with University of Michigan graduation
Student demonstrations against the war on Gaza collided with the annual pomp-and-circumstance of graduation season at American universities such as Michigan.
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Students protest in support of Palestine during the University of Michigan's Spring Commencement ceremony on May 4, 2024 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan [Getty]

Pro-Palestinian protesters briefly disrupted a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan on Saturday while demonstrators faced off with police at the University of Virginia as US colleges braced for more turmoil during graduation festivities.

Students across the US have rallied or set up tents at dozens of universities to protest the months-long war in Gaza and call on President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel, to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza. They also demand their schools divest from companies that support Israel's government, such as arms suppliers.

Videos shared on social media showed dozens of students wearing the traditional keffiyeh headdress and graduation caps and waving Palestinian flags as they walked down the center aisle of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, among cheers and boos from a crowd of thousands.

The ceremony continued and campus police escorted the protesters toward the back of the stadium, but no arrests were made, according to Colleen Mastony, a spokesperson for the university.

"Peaceful protests like this have taken place at U-M commencement ceremonies for decades," Mastony said in a statement. "The university supports free speech and expression, and university leaders are pleased that today’s commencement was such a proud and triumphant moment."

The weekend brought more action across US campuses where contrasting views over Israel's war in Gaza have erupted, sometimes violently, over the last couple of weeks.

Many of the schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called in police to quell the protests.

Tensions briefly flared up once more on Saturday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Police officers in riot gear can be seen in a video moving on an encampment of Pro-Palestinian protesters, cuffing some demonstrators with zip ties and dragging them across the lawn.

Police have so far arrested over 2,000 protesters at colleges around the country.

The University of Michigan is one of the many universities who altered their security protocols for graduation ceremonies.

The school told news agency Reuters last week it trained staff volunteers in how to mitigate disruptions, a change from the usual duties of guiding guests around campus and showing them to their seats.

The anti-war protests have been staged in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza, following the Hamas attack on October 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

Israel has killed over 34,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities, and flattened the Palestinian territory.