GW Gaza Encampment Shut Down by Police; Students Arrested

Student protest

Pro-Palestinian student protesters and others at the George Washington University tent encampment were arrested after failing to leave university property in an early morning coordinated police action. Around 03:30 after having been warned to leave the university property and threatened with arrest for failure to do so, a coordinated police action by campus police and 500 Metro DC officers began clearing the area at University Yard (U-Yard).

Earlier in the evening before last night’s police action, students from the encampment marched to the home of university president Ellen M. Granberg where they held a protest before returning to U-Yard.

In all there were 33 arrests with 29 protesters charged for unlawful entry or trespassing and four protesters for APO (assault on a police officer) who, when assaulting officers, were pepper sprayed in the confrontation.

Those arrested were taken to a police training facility across the city where other activists soon arrived promising to hold a vigil until their fellow activists were released. Police did later release 29 protesters enmasee. And later in the late afternoon, a small group of protesters began a new action on campus.

By mid-morning, with the protest encampment blocked off by a heavy police presence to all those except students hurrying to take final exams, cleaning crews were busy removing any remaining property from the area and power washing the street. The statue of George Washington, who only hours earlier had been covered with stickers and draped with a keffiyeh and Palestinian flag, was now snuggly wrapped like a Christo sculpture. Police on scene said that the area would be closed for at least the next two days while the campus remains on security lockdown.

Outside of the police line blocking access to U-Yard one protester marched back and forth carrying a Free Palestine sign as news crews reported on the developing story from nearby.

Tensions at the encampment have been building between the university and student protesters over several issues, many of which Granberg had cited in a letter to the university community last week. In her letter she specifically stated that the encampment had “been co-opted by individuals who are largely unaffiliated with our community and do not have our community’s best interest in mind” and that it had become “…increasingly unsafe and a violation of university and city regulations to have so many unidentified and unvetted people from outside the GW community living on university property.” 

One incident that became a sore point occurred earlier this week when student protesters raised a Palestinian flag in the encampment outside of a university building in U-Yard. During that incident police and demonstrators wrestled over its removal and the following day a massive American flag was placed on the facade of a campus building where below ropes to flag poles had been severed.

At a morning press conference when asked why the police decided to take down the encampment, Mayor Bowser stated that MPD Chief Pamela A. Smith and her team “are the experts on public safety and have the final word on how our resources are deployed,” indicating that the final decision to do so was based on the MPDC’s recommendation and public safety concerns.

Chief Smith stated that MPDC had seen “an escalation of hostilities” at the protest encampment that started last Thursday when a campus police officer “was pushed by a protester and an item was grabbed out of the police officer’s hand. On Monday, MPDC learned of more indicators that the protest was becoming more volatile and less stable…including that counter demonstrators were in the encampment” and the collecting by protesters of what she described as “items that could potentially be used as offensive and defensive weapons.”

Both DC Mayor Bowser and Chief Smith who were scheduled to testify before the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability regarding their “inaction to intervene in the pro-Palestinian protest” learned that the hearing was cancelled in the aftermath of the protesters’ arrests.

The emphasis of concern by the GW administration and DC has never addressed the genocide taking place in Gaza, but rather has instead been centered on private property, trespassing, public safety and opposition to divestment as demanded by students. Their moral disregard places them on the wrong side of history while the effect of nationwide student protests has made itself felt in Israel and on the war in spite of the universities reluctance to take a stand.

This became quite apparent when Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan in an interview with Israeli TV news as reported by NBC who quoted Erdan as saying that “the decision by the Biden administration to pause supplying Israel with 2,000 pound bombs was a very disappointing decision, even frustrating,” and he suggested that “…the move stemmed from political pressure on Biden from Congress, campus protests and the upcoming election.”

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

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