Israel-Hamas war tensions roil campuses; Brown protesters are arrested, Haverford building occupied

Dec 13, 2023, 2:58 PM

Dozens of student protesters at Brown University were arrested, and a weeklong sit-in at Haverford College ended Wednesday under threat of disciplinary action as U.S. college campuses continue to be roiled by tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Brown’s police department charged 41 students with trespass when they refused to leave the University Hall administrative building after business hours on Monday, according to officials at the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island.

Earlier that day, protesters had met with Brown President Christina H. Paxson and demanded that Brown divest “its endowment from Israeli military occupation,” the school said in a statement on the arrests. Students were photographed and fingerprinted at the administration building before their release Monday night. Other students waited outside to cheer them on.

It was the second round of arrests at Brown in a little over a month as college administrators around the country try to reconcile the rights of students to protest with the schools’ imperative to maintain order.

Twenty students protesting Israel’s invasion of Gaza were arrested for trespass on Nov. 8, although Brown dropped the charges on Nov. 27, two days after a Palestinian student at Brown, Hisham Awartani, and two other Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vermont.

Brown said Wednesday that while protest is “a necessary and acceptable means of expression on campus,” students may not “interfere with the normal functions of the University.” The school warned of even more severe consequences if students fail to heed restrictions on the time, place and manner of protests.

“The disruption to secure buildings is not acceptable, and the University is prepared to escalate the level of criminal charges for future incidents of students occupying secure buildings,” Brown said.

At Haverford, outside Philadelphia, student activists began their sit-in on Dec. 6 and occupied Founders Hall, which houses administrative offices. They are demanding that college President Wendy Raymond publicly call for a ceasefire in Gaza, which Israel invaded after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

Hundreds of students participated over the last week, taking deliveries of food and setting up study spaces. Professors even dropped in to teach, according to student organizers.

The college asserted that the protesters were hindering fellow students, staff and faculty, and told the sit-in organizers Tuesday night that “they must discontinue actions that impede student learning and the functions of the College, which include the sit-in inside Founders Hall,” Raymond and the college dean said in a campus message Wednesday morning.

Student organizers told The Associated Press that college officials threatened to haul protesters before a disciplinary panel if they didn’t leave the hall. About 50 students defied the warning and slept in the building overnight before protesters held one last rally Wednesday morning and delivered letters to Raymond before disbanding.

The threat of discipline played a role in the decision to end the sit-in, according to Julian Kennedy, a 21-year-old junior and organizer with Haverford Students for Peace. But he said organizers also concluded that the sit-in would not compel Haverford to meet the group’s demands.

“At this point, we just see that this college as an institution is broken and has lost its values,” said Kennedy, accusing Haverford of betraying its Quaker pacifist roots.

Ellie Baron, a 20-year-old junior and protest organizer, said the group will pressure Haverford in other ways.

“Just because the sit-in is over, doesn’t mean our efforts are over. We are extraordinarily upset our president refuses to call for a cease-fire,” Baron said.

A Palestinian American student at Haverford, Kinnan Abdalhamid, was also among the three Palestinian college students who were shot over Thanksgiving break in Vermont. The suspected gunman was arrested and has pleaded innocent to three counts of attempted murder. Officials are investigating whether the shooting, which seriously injured one of the other students, was a hate crime,

Abdalhamid, who took part in Wednesday’s rally, said in a statement that “our presence here is a powerful message that we will not stay silent, we will not be passive observers.”

The arrests and sit-in came amid continuing fallout over the testimony given by leaders of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and MIT at a congressional hearing on antisemitism last week. The presidents drew fire for carefully worded responses to a line of questioning from New York Republican Elise Stefanik, who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate the schools’ rules. Penn’s president resigned over the weekend while, at Harvard, the governing board declared its support for the school’s embattled president.

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Israel-Hamas war tensions roil campuses; Brown protesters are arrested, Haverford building occupied