Gaza hero Motaz Azaiza joins Columbia University pro-Palestinian protest encampment

Gaza hero Motaz Azaiza joins Columbia University pro-Palestinian protest encampment
Palestinian journalist Motaz Azaiza joined protesters at Columbia University demanding a Gaza ceasefire and divestment from companies linked to Israel.
3 min read
24 April, 2024
The Palestinian photojournalist was covering Israel's war on Gaza from the enclave, drawing a large social media following [Getty]

Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza joined US students at a pro-Palestinian protest camp at Columbia University on Tuesday, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from companies linked to Israel.

Students have been protesting regularly at the New York university since 7 October in support of Palestinians and calling for an end to its financial ties to Israel.

An encampment which started last week, occupying one of the university's main squares, has triggered similar protests in universities across the US and abroad.

Columbia University has been criticised for its attempts to crack down on the demonstrations, with some citing them rewriting their protest policies and cutting or reducing ties with faculty members for making "antisemitic" statements.

The university said on Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the student protest movement to remove some of the tents occupying the site's West Lawn.

Azaiza, who rose to prominence for documenting Israel's war on Gaza, garnered a significant social media following for capturing the devastating impact of Israel's military campaign on Palestinians in the enclave.

He later evacuated Gaza after 108 days, and expressed his support for the protests at Columbia University.

"Proud to be standing with all the brave students who have been peacefully protesting to show solidarity with my people in #Gaza," Azaiza said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"I admire the action being taken by this diverse group of students of all faiths - including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim - united against genocide," he added.

"More needs to be done worldwide. They will not silence us!"

His comments come after Columbia University cancelled in-person classes on Monday, with the president of the university calling in New York Police to clear the tent encampment. 

Last week, police arrested over 100 students from Columbia on charges of trespassing. Police also arrested dozens of demonstrators at Yale University in Connecticut and New York University in Manhattan.

Some students were also suspended from university over the protests and encampment. 

Isra Hirsi, the daughter of American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, said she was one of those suspended from Columbia University and its associate institution, Barnard College.

Hirsi said that despite being an organiser with Columbia University Apartheid Divest, she had never been reprimanded or received any disciplinary warnings in her three years at the college.

"Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated. We will stand resolute until our demands are met," she said on X.


Azaiza was named by TRT World Citizen as their 2024 Communicator Awardee and was featured on TIME's 100 list of most influential people. In November, GQ Middle East also featured him as its 2023 'Man Of The Year'.

The photojournalist admitted he could "feel no happiness" after being given the World Citizen award, due to the trauma of Israel's ongoing war on Gaza.

"Don’t be faked by the nice suit, I literally can’t [feel] any kind of happiness, I only feel something is squeezing my heart, chest and stomach," he wrote in a post on Instagram.

Since Israel's war on Gaza, a total of 34,262 Palestinians have been killed, and an additional 77,000 have been wounded in the same time frame.

The war on Gaza has plunged the enclave into a deep humanitarian crisis, and with aid groups warning over looming famine.