“On the 207th day of genocide in Gaza, pro-Palestinian student activists struck a decisive blow to Israel by exposing Columbia University’s use of violence to protect their investments in Israel’s vicious assault on Palestinians,” wrote Columbia University Apartheid Divest, one of a group of student organisations protesting the war on Palestine on the Columbia University campus in Harlem, New York.

The latest round of violence perpetrated on them, by heavily militarised police including a SWAT team and “the vicious Strategic Response Group” of the NYPD, was triggered after the students took control of a campus building called Hamilton Hall and floated a banner from it to rename it Hind’s Hall, in memory of six-year-old Hind Rajab, killed in Gaza over a period of weeks surrounded by the dead bodies of her family members in the burnt shell of their car after the Israeli military fired a tank shell at them and later killed the Red Cross paramedics trying to reach the young survivor. Hind’s body was recovered two weeks later.

At Hind’s Hall and the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the lawns outside Butler Library, the students’ demands were clear. They want their university to divest all finances, including the 13 billion dollar endowment, from “companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.” They want their university to sever all academic ties with Israel in occupied Palestine, including a proposed campus center in Tel Aviv, dual degree and study abroad programs, and collaborations between faculty. And they want their university to publicly demand a ceasefire in Gaza and to denounce “the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.”

In response, after days and weeks of ratcheted tensions and negotiations with the groups leading the peaceful protest, the Columbia administration sent in armed police to clear the protestors and their encampment, first on April 18, then again to clear a much larger second encampment, on April 30. Columbia University Apartheid Divest stated that evening:

“The brave protestors in Hind’s Hall put themselves in harm’s way to force Columbia to divest. In response, Columbia University broke every written and unwritten rule of university norms by inviting a SWAT team and hundreds of armed riot cops, including the vicious Strategic Response Group, to invade Columbia’s classrooms, barricade students and press alike inside their dorms, and brutalize hundreds of us with metal equipment, tasers, flash grenades, and batons.

“Over 100 students were arrested. At least one student was hospitalized due to injuries from the NYPD. Video footage shows police shoving students to the ground, tasers crackling in the background as our classmates screamed, and a student being thrown down concrete stairs, leaving her unconscious. She was then denied medical care by Columbia.”

The campus branch of Students for Justice in Palestine tweeted that night: “Multiple Columbia students were taken straight to the hospital due to severe injuries by NYPD. Students had swollen faces from being kicked repeatedly by police.”

The second time the police were called onto campus followed a visit by House leader Mike Johnson, a Republican from Los Angeles, ostensibly to meet Jewish students out of concern for their safety, where he told the media in front of booing students that Columbia should “control… these lawless agitators”, failing which its president should resign and the National Guard be called in. On many of the dozens of campuses in the United States now protesting the genocide of Palestinians, students and teachers recalled the murders of students on the Kent State, Jackson State, and University of South Carolina campuses in 1968 after the government called in the National Guard.

The protestors being attacked on university campuses are joined by students, teachers and staff at over 200 universities worldwide, according to provisional lists gathered by the media, including Palestine solidarity encampments on campuses in Australia, Canada, France, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Yemen, Japan, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

In the United States alone it is a student, teacher, intellectual mobilisation unseen since the colonial war on Vietnam.

The police action in the past days prompted fears of a more brutal crackdown on campuses where protests and encampments are still underway. Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California, Los Angeles tweeted at the time of writing that protestors had just prevented the LAPD from entering their campus, while counterprotestors were tearing down their encampment: