Over 100 students arrested in California, Texas as Gaza protests intensify

Police crack down on demonstrations at UT Austin and USC as students at Harvard and Brown set up encampments in protest against Israel’s war on Gaza.

Police in the United States have arrested dozens of protesters at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and the University of Southern California (USC) as student-led demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza intensified across the country and House Speaker Mike Johnson suggested calling in the National Guard.

The arrests on Wednesday in cities of Austin and Los Angeles came as students at Harvard University and Brown University on the east coast also defied threats of action and set up encampments in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The movement, which began at Columbia University in New York last week, is calling on universities to cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling its brutal war in Gaza. At least 34,262 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the besieged enclave since October 7, when fighters from Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing 1,139 people and taking dozens of people captive.

The student-led protests have been peaceful and largely respectful, but have been met by heavy-handed action from many universities amid allegations of anti-Semitism.

The biggest rally on Wednesday took place at UT Austin where hundreds of students staged a walkout and marched to the campus’s main lawn, where they planned to set up an encampment. But the university said it would “not tolerate disruptions” and called in local and state police to disperse the crowds.

Hundreds of officers arrived at the scene, some on horseback. Holding batons, they charged at the crowds and forcefully arrested several students.

At least 34 were taken into custody, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, said the protesters “belong in jail” and that any students joining in what he called “hate-filled, anti-Semitic protests” should be expelled.

Jeremi Suri, who is Jewish and a professor of history at UT Austin, told Al Jazeera there was “nothing anti-Semitic” about the protests.

“These students were shouting ‘free Palestine’, that’s all,” he said. “They were saying nothing that was threatening. And as they were standing and shouting, I witnessed the police – the state police, the campus police, the city police – an army of police almost the size as the student group … many were carrying guns, many were carrying rifles, and then, within a few minutes, this group of police stormed into the student crowd and started arresting students.”

At the USC campus in Los Angeles, efforts by students to set up an encampment were also met with force.

Campus security scuffled with students as they took down tents, and dozens of police officers holding batons and wearing helmets later moved in to arrest the protesters as helicopters hovered overhead. The crackdown came after USC Provost Andrew Guzman sent a campus-wide email, saying protesters had “threatened the safety of our offices and campus community”.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from the university, however, said that “this protest against the war on Gaza was entirely peaceful”.

“We did not see any confrontations or harassment among the students,” he said.

Reynolds said some of the students later staged a sit-in with their arms linked.


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