Fresh chaos, arrests on US college campuses over Israel

Lisa Richwine and Arlene Washington |

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have again clashed with police on several US university campuses.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have again clashed with police on several US university campuses.

Police have forcibly removed scores of defiant pro-Palestinian protesters at several US colleges, including taking down an encampment at UCLA in a jarring scene that underscored the heightened chaos that has erupted at universities this week.

In the pre-dawn hours on Thursday, helmeted police swarmed a tent city set up at the University of California in Los Angeles, using flash bangs and riot gear to push through lines of protesters who linked arms in a futile attempt to halt their advance.

Los Angeles police said on social media that 210 people were arrested at UCLA, and hundreds of arrests were made at other universities overnight and on Thursday.

Campus Protests Then and Now
Police advance on pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus. (AP PHOTO)

Students have rallied or set up tents at dozens of universities in recent days to protest Israel’s war on Gaza. Demonstrators have called on President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel’s right to defend itself, to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza and demanded schools divest from companies that support Israel’s government.

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

Biden broke his silence on the demonstrations on Thursday after the UCLA raid, saying Americans have the right to protest but not to unleash violence.

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest,” he said at the White House. “It’s against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancelling of classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest.”

Biden, who is seeking re-election in November against Republican former President Donald Trump, has walked a careful line as he confronts criticism from both the right and the left over his Israel policy.

At UCLA, police repeatedly urged demonstrators to clear the protest zone, which occupied a central plaza about the size of a football field, before they moved in.

Dozens of loud explosions were heard from stun grenades, fired by police, while demonstrators, some carrying makeshift shields and umbrellas, chanted “push them back” and flashed bright lights in officers’ eyes.

Live TV footage showed officers taking down tents and tearing apart makeshift barricades.

Some of the protesters had been seen donning hard hats, goggles and respirator masks in anticipation of the siege a day after the university declared the encampment unlawful.

By morning, the plaza was strewn with detritus from the destroyed encampment: tents, blankets, food containers, a Palestinian flag, an upturned helmet. Police remained on hand during the first half of the day as the area was cleaned of debris.

In Portland, Oregon, police entered the Portland State University library on Thursday morning, where demonstrators had barricaded themselves since Monday. Several dozen protesters ran out of the building and rushed into a phalanx of officers in riot gear, who arrested them.

In New Hampshire, police arrested approximately 100 protesters in separate incidents at Dartmouth University and the University of New Hampshire overnight, breaking up encampments.

Columbia University
Students and protesters gather outside Columbia University campus to protest in New York. (EPA PHOTO)

The protests follow the deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip, which killed 1200 people and saw dozens taken hostage, and an ensuing Israeli offensive that has killed about 34,000 and created a humanitarian crisis.

The campus demonstrations have been met with counter-protesters accusing them of fomenting anti-Jewish hatred. The pro-Palestinian side, including some Jews opposed to Israeli actions in Gaza, say they are being unfairly branded as antisemitic for criticising Israel’s government and expressing support for human rights.

UCLA officials said the campus, with nearly 52,000 students, would remain shuttered except for limited operations on Thursday and Friday.