Fri. May 31st, 2024

Dozens of students took over Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall earlier this morning, April 30, renaming the building “Hind’s Hall” in honor of six-year-old Hind Rajab, who was killed alongside her family by Israeli forces in Gaza. Echoing the 1985 student protests opposing Columbia’s investments in apartheid in South Africa, during which organizers baptized the Hamilton building “Mandela Hall,” the ongoing seizure of the structure follows weeks of student-led Gaza solidarity encampments on the university’s South Lawn and in schools across the United States.

Photographs captured by Hyperallergic show students inside the building peering out from windows to receive food and supplies from fellow demonstrators outside, their faces obscured by masks to protect their identities. At the entrance, near a statue of Alexander Hamilton, a sign that reads “Hind’s Hall” bears an illustration of “Handala,” the iconic cartoon by Naji al-Ali that became an emblem of the Palestinian people. 

Throughout the day today, student organizers and other pro-Palestinian advocacy groups gathered outside the main campus entrances to protest the school’s investments in Israel’s occupation of Palestine and ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip. The demonstrations followed Columbia officials’ decision to indefinitely lock down the Morningside campus, restricting access to students living in on-campus housing and essential Columbia personnel. 

Around 50 demonstrators from Columbia student groups and other anti-war advocacy organizations, including Radical Elders and Veterans for Peace, gathered outside the barricaded entrance at 116th Street and Broadway around 1pm today, wearing keffiyehs and waving Palestinian flags. In addition to at least a dozen New York Police Department officers, there were also a few pro-Israel counter-protesters in attendance, draped in blue and white Israel flags and screaming profanities and “Jew Haters” at the pro-Palestine group.

“It’s always been the campus response and the policing and the security gates and the militarization of our community that has made students feel unsafe and kept us from studying,” Shehza Anjum, a third-year undergraduate student who has participated in the campus solidarity encampment, told Hyperallergic

Since Columbia announced the campus lockdown earlier this morning, Anjum said there has been “a lot of confusion” among students and faculty over how the rest of the semester should proceed.

“Luckily, for me at least, I’ve had supportive professors who have been a bit more lenient with us because they know that it’s difficult to submit work right now, but it was never the protests that endangered our ability to do that,” Anjum said.

A fifth-year PhD student who asked to remain anonymous agreed that the encampment “is a really beautiful space” that has brought a lot of protesters hope.

“It’s infuriating that the US government is funding a genocide, and it’s infuriating that our university is investing in weapons manufacturers and in companies that are in occupied territories in the West Bank,” they told Hyperallergic

Over recent weeks, students have publicized the names of companies with ties to Israeli weapons and settlements, such as BlackRock and Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest military contractor.

Columbia officials declined to comment on the ongoing protests or demands, referring Hyperallergic to the updated statements released periodically on the situation. 

“We regret that protesters have chosen to escalate the situation through their actions. Our top priority is restoring safety and order on our campus,” university spokesperson Ben Chang said early this afternoon, adding that students occupying Hamilton Hall currently face expulsion. Other students who continue to occupy the South Lawn encampment have also been suspended, which makes any fourth-year students participating “ineligible to graduate.”

Students outside the Hamilton Hall (Hind’s Hall) building (photo Mukta Joshi/Hyperallergic)

At around 3:20pm, supporters traveled to 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, the only access point to campus, where demonstrators convened with another few dozen pro-Palestine protesters on the sidewalk and approximately 30 student organizers who had gathered from inside the gated-off Morningside Campus.

At least 20 police officers were lined up alongside barricades next to the protest, with additional officers across the street and in vehicles. As a demonstrator waved a Palestinian flag from the roof of the occupied Hamilton Hall, protesters on the ground cheered and chanted: “Say it clear and say it loud, students you make us proud”; “Columbia, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”; and “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

“There’s this narrative going around that if you stop protesting, then things can go back to normal,” Anjum told Hyperallergic. “We don’t want things to go back to normal. This is nothing compared to what people are going through in Gaza.”

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