Police watch pro-Israel 'mob' assault UCLA Gaza protest camp

Police watch pro-Israel 'mob' assault UCLA Gaza protest camp
US police have launched a heavy-handed crackdown on pro-Palestine protest encampments, with the number of those arrested now above 1,300.
4 min read
02 May, 2024
Pro-Palestine activists have organised protest camps across the US [Getty]

US police have launched another wave of heavy-handed crackdown on pro-Palestine protesters as student encampments across the country expand.

An estimated 1,300 people were arrested by Wednesday afternoon for protesting while hundreds more have been suspended over their repeated calls for a Gaza ceasefire and for their universities to divest from Israel-linked companies.

The protest encampments, which started at Columbia University, have now spread across the US and internationally, growing in numbers. University officials have called for police to disperse the protesters, citing disruption to classes.

Police in riot gear surrounded over 400 protesters who set up a camp at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on Thursday, ordering the protesters to leave or face arrest.

Video footage from UCLA shows buses arriving on campus, believed to be used by the police to transport those arrested to police stations.

According to Al Jazeera, police used stun grenades to disorientate protesters and a pro-Israel mob also violently attacked protesters.

Footage showed the mob holding sticks or poles to attack wooden boards erected to protect pro-Palestine protesters. At least one firework was also thrown into the camp.

A professor at UCLA, Ananya Roy, denounced the university for failing to respond to the mob and counter protests.

"It gives people impunity to come to our campus as a rampaging mob," she told the LA Times. "The word is out they can do this repeatedly and get away with it. I am ashamed of my university."

The protesters have vowed to continue protesting despite the crackdown.

New York City’s mayor, Eric Adams said police undertook a "precision" operation this week to break into Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall after students barricaded themselves in.

Columbia University’s president, Nemat Shafik, sent out an e-mail blaming protesters for the need for police, saying they had "damaged property".

On Tuesday evening, police in New York, the location of the university, arrested at least 300 students at City College.

The protests also spilled over into New Orleans, where officers with guns drawn cleared an encampment on Wednesday at Tulane University, with at least 14 protesters arrested.

Police at the University of Arizona in Tucson also fired "non-lethal" chemical weapons at protesters as arrests were made, according to the Arizona Daily Star, which reported at least one protester was hit with a rubber bullet.

US police have torn down tents at several campuses, including at the University of Wisconsin, where a professor was pinned down for asking police to leave students alone.

Criticism of media coverage

Activists and campaigners have criticised what they have called unfair and inaccurate coverage of the protest encampments.  

New York City’s mayor said "outside agitators" were working to "radicalise our children", sparking backlash.

One of the people named by the mayor was Nahla Al-Arian, a 63-year-old retired elementary school teacher.

"He [Eric Adams] smeared my 63-year-old mother, who lost dozens of family members in Gaza, to justify it," Al-Arian’s daughter Laila wrote on X.

Many have also hit out over the media’s use of the word "clashes" to describe the crackdowns on peaceful protesters.

"Clashes didn't break out. Violence didn't erupt. Pro-Israel protesters at UCLA violently assaulted peaceful anti-war Protesters while cops watched," one social media user wrote.

"This is at UCLA. Stop calling it clashes and counter-protesters. They were vigilantes who attacked the Palestine encampment as the LAPD stood by and watched," another said, referring to a video of a pro-Israel mob tearing down metal barricades.

Growing encampments 

According to The New Arab’s US correspondent on the ground, the encampments "seemed to be popping up by the hour" last week.

"The encampments are highly organised and coordinated, at Columbia, they were having press hours and were getting a steady flow of food in from alumni and others," the correspondent reported.

At campuses in Washington, people have formed online groups to tell others what’s needed in terms of food and other support.

The protests have shown no signs of slowing down, with new encampments emerging.

"At one point last week, I was walking down the street and saw an encampment that had popped up at a fashion school, in front of the museum of Fashion Institute of Technology," the correspondent said.

Similar protests have been triggered around the world, including in France, the UK, Australia and Kuwait.