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Israel-Hamas Conflict | The Current Wave of Student Protests

From Columbia University to Global Stage
israel hamas conflict    the current wave of student protests

Amid the Israel-Gaza conflict, which completed nearly seven months, a wave of student protests has swept across not just the United States but also various parts of the globe. The scenes unfolding on world prestigious university campuses, that have produced who’s who of the global leaders paint a vivid picture of passionate activism echoing sentiments of past and present.


In the United States alone, the demonstrations have persisted across numerous campuses, resulting in over 1,000 arrests thus far. At the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), tensions reached a boiling point as police officers moved to dismantle barricades at a pro-Palestinian protest site where hundreds had set up encampments. What followed was a clash between law enforcement and protesters, resulting in several arrests.


The sight of law enforcement detaining pro-Palestinian demonstrators, at some places clashes between Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian demonstrations and dismantling barricades outside the UCLA encampment underlines the gravity of the situation where academics, future historians and researchers are getting involved.


Despite warnings and potential risks of harm, many protesters remained steadfast at the site, determined to make their voices heard even though several universities have been cleared off from physical barricades that protestors had created.


Amidst the chaos, reports emerged of officers firing what appeared to be rubber bullets, with dozens of protesters detained and taken away by police as the demonstrations continued to enter weeks and swell. As tensions continue to simmer, law enforcement’s efforts to disperse the protesters and restore order on university campuses remain ongoing.


The scenes unfolding serve as a stark reminder of the power of student activism as the world watches, the outcomes of these protests will undoubtedly shape the discourse surrounding the Israel-Gaza conflict and the broader landscape of global activism.


Columbia University has been at the forefront of the protests, but similar demonstrations have erupted at universities nationwide, each with its response from administrations to the encampments.


While some universities have chosen to clear encampments from their campuses, others have witnessed instances of violence and disorder. At Florida State University, for example, classes were cancelled as hundreds of students were detained, and at least five protesters were arrested.

Despite the widespread protests and the significant number of Indian students studying in the US and other Western countries, there has been no major outreach to the Indian Embassy or Consulates for assistance or evacuation, nor have any families sought help regarding disciplinary actions resulting from participation in the protests.

Commenting on the ongoing student protests, Randhir Jaiswal, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), stated on Thursday that the Indian government has been monitoring the situation closely. Jaiswal emphasised the importance of balancing freedom of expression with responsibility and public safety in any democracy, particularly when it comes to relations between democratic nations. He reiterated the expectation for all Indian citizens, both at home and abroad, to abide by local laws and regulations.

These demonstrations that began as a small group a couple of weeks ago at Columbia University have now spread massively across US universities and colleges and also across the Atlantic in many Western universities in Europe.

The Protests evoke memories of the activism seen during the Vietnam War era. In the US alone, more than 2,300 students have been arrested for their participation in protests at nearly 50 campuses since April 18. While most of these protests remain peaceful, some have escalated into violent clashes.

Drawing parallels with the student activism of the 1960s, the current protests reflect a deep-seated desire for societal change, resonating with historical calls for justice and accountability. However, in contrast to the widespread and intense mobilisation of the past, today’s demonstrations are relatively smaller in scale and intensity.

Despite the notable similarities, there are significant differences between the protests then and now. Unlike the Vietnam era, the absence of a military draft and direct US involvement in the Israel-Gaza conflict alters the dynamics of the current movement. Nevertheless, the core demand for divestment, echoing past efforts to challenge complicity in warfare, remains a common thread linking the two eras.

The global reach of these protests underscores their significance. From Australia to Canada to France, students are demanding tangible action, such as cutting ties with Israel and divesting from companies implicated in the conflict. This collective outcry reflects a growing awareness and solidarity on a global scale, highlighting the interconnectedness of social justice movements in today’s world.

In response to the unrest, policymakers are considering legislative measures to address antisemitism on college campuses. However, concerns about potential violations of free speech highlight the complexity of navigating these issues in a democratic society.

For example, in the UK, where protests are gaining momentum, students are demanding that their universities divest from companies supporting Israel and provide educational support for Gaza. These demands highlight the importance of institutional accountability and ethical investment practices in addressing global conflicts.

Moving forward, it is essential to recognize the underlying grievances fuelling these protests and engage in constructive dialogue to address them. Universities and policymakers must listen to the voices of students, uphold principles of free speech, and promote peaceful avenues for expressing dissent as today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders of the society. Moreover, efforts to foster understanding and empathy among diverse communities are crucial for building bridges and fostering meaningful change.

Author is National Editor,

Greater Kashmir.