A wave of student protests is currently rocking campuses across the world. The biggest have been in America, where the police and university security services have cracked down hard on peaceful protest. But students in Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Canada and Mexico have also risen up in solidarity, both with their colleagues in America but mainly to protest at their governments’ refusal to bring Israel to heel. 

In the UK, students at Leeds, Bristol and Warwick have also set up peace camps.

The protests began months ago as the impact of Israel’s assault on Gaza became known but have escalated to new levels in the past fortnight. Student activists, frustrated at the lack of political progress as the genocide has progressed, turned their ire on their own universities, many of whom have active investments in companies linked to the Israeli state.

The divestment movement quickly grew. The epicentre was the University of Columbia, one of America’s most prestigious universities, where the students established a peace camp. Their one demand: that Columbia divest itself of Israeli investments. Thousands of students took part in the protests. Faculty members, wearing orange vests, surrounded the protests to protect the students’ rights of free speech, which are protected by the First Amendment.

The result was a violent conflict with state troopers who arrived, fully equipped in riot gear, to confront the t-shirt wearing students. Now, given that the students were obviously not interested in a riot, we have to ask what made the police think one might take place? 

At the University of Texas, college authorities gave students until 2pm Monday to disband their peace camp. Al Jazeera was on hand to record what was happening. Reporter Heidi Zhou-Castro described how the protest was entirely peaceful until the heavily-armed police turned up. She also made it clear that in the four days she had been on site she had not heard a single chant that could be described as antisemitic, the usual charge levelled at any anti-Zionist demonstration.

Ms Zhou-Castro spoke to one student, Hadi, about what was happening. He told her: “What trumps our fear is our love for Palestine, and our love for liberation, and our refusal to accept subjugation and censorship from an oppressive institution.”

The arrests, far from preventing the escalation of the protests, have had the opposite effect. After every round of arrests, more brave, unarmed, students turn up to protest. This is this generation’s Vietnam War.

Meanwhile in Germany, students organised a two-week-long encampment outside the German Parliament and Federal Chancellery. The protest was violently and brutally attacked by police. Germany is the second largest supplier of arms to Israel, supplying almost one-third of the weaponry currently being used to slaughter innocent civilians.

In the UK there have been smaller protests on a number of campuses, including Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff, but to date nothing on the scale of America, Germany or Italy.

The important point to bear in mind here is that these are not groups of young people demonstrating for their own benefit. They are young people putting their own education and futures on hold for a greater good. Alongside the many young people involved in climate strikes, these show the best of our youth. 

Are we about to see a real summer of discontent around the world and could it be sparked by the actions of students such as those now protesting?

BREAKING NEWS: Late on Tuesday evening armed officers entered Hamilton Hall at the University of Columbia which student occupiers had renamed Hind’s Hall in memory of Hind Rajib, a six year old Palestinian girl killed by Israeli forced. They forcibly removed protesters and made a number of arrests. University authorities claimed that the protesters were “outside agitators”, a claim disputed by one of the student leaders Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs who told Reuters, “They’re students.” Cameron Jones, of Jewish Voice for Peace at Columbia, told Al Jazeera that there is a groundswell of demands for the university’s leadership to resign. He said he expected a “large, large blowback from the student body, from the faculty, from alumni” in weeks to come. In the ‘land of the free’ it seems, you are not free to oppose a genocide if it is being carried out by Zionists.

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