Pro-Palestine Protesters Barricade Themselves Inside Columbia Building

Pro-Palestinian protesters stormed into a Columbia University building and barricaded themselves inside early Tuesday, the latest dramatic escalation in the ongoing demonstrations denouncing Israel’s war in Gaza currently blazing at campuses across the country.

Dozens of protesters used tables and chairs to block the entrances to Hamilton Hall in the early hours, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator. Activists inside the building—which was once occupied during a 1968 civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protest—reportedly unfurled banners reading “Free Palestine” and “Hind’s Hall” in reference to Hind Rajab, the 6-year-old Palestinian girl who was found dead in February after making a desperate phone call for help.

Columbia started suspending students on Monday if they broke a 2 p.m. deadline to vacate an encampment nearby. Such students won’t be able to graduate or return to university housing. It’s not year clear how many individuals have been hit by the suspensions.

In a statement, CU Apartheid Divest said an “autonomous group reclaimed Hind’s Hall, previously known as ‘Hamilton Hall,’” shortly after midnight. It said the protesters have “voiced their intention to remain” in the building until Columbia concedes to “CUAD’s three demands: divestment, financial transparency, and amnesty.”

The statement also warned Columbia’s administrators and trustees to “not incite another Kent or Jackson State by bringing soldiers and police officers with weapons onto our campus.” “Students’ blood will be on your hands,” it added.

The activists stormed the building almost two weeks after Columbia President Minouche Shafik asked authorities to clear the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on April 18. Police arrested 108 people as part of the clearance.

Columbia’s Department of Public Safety issued its own statement early Tuesday saying that access to the school’s Morningside campus had been limited to students living in certain residential buildings and employees providing essential services. All but one entrance and exit point to the campus have been closed off too.

“This access restriction will remain in place until circumstances allow otherwise,” the statement read. “The safety of every single member of this community is paramount.”

The building’s occupation comes amid growing pressure on Columbia’s leadership. President Shafik had said earlier Monday that talks with student organizers to end the encampment and adherence to school policies had broken down, explaining that the university “will not divest from Israel.” She also told Jewish students and others who have found the recent atmosphere on campus “intolerable” that they are valued.

“This is your campus too,” she said. “We are committed to making Columbia safe for everyone, and to ensuring that you feel welcome and valued.”

Nevertheless, Shafik was already facing calls to resign before the occupation at Hamilton Hall. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who was himself booed and heckled during a speech he gave the school last week, said on Monday that the situation at Columbia “is an utter disgrace.” “The campus is being overrun by antisemitic students and faculty alike,” he claimed. “There must be consequences. President Shafik must resign.”

A group of House Democrats similarly demanded that Columbia’s Board of Trustees either “act” or “resign” to be replaced “by individuals who will uphold the University’s legal obligations.”

The protests come as the bloodshed continues in Gaza. Israel launched its large ground offensive inside the enclave after Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli figures. Since then, more than 34,500 people have been killed in Gaza as a result of the conflict, according to the Gaza health ministry.

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