‘Biggest student movement of 21st century’: Pro-Palestinian protests spread across global campuses

New wave of student-led mass protests in support of Palestine has spread to almost all continents

Emre Basaran  | 10.05.2024 - Update : 10.05.2024
‘Biggest student movement of 21st century’: Pro-Palestinian protests spread across global campuses

  • Encampments or sit-ins recorded at more than 130 universities, over 2,900 people arrested on at least 61 college campuses, according to latest Axios tally

  • Violence against protesters has been particularly intensified in the US and several European countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands


College campuses around the world have become hubs of protests against Israel’s war on Gaza, a powerful new wave of activism that has forced everyone to take notice.

From the US and Canada to several European nations and all the way to countries like Australia and Japan, calls for divestment are reverberating in all corners of the globe.

While there have been continuous protests against Israel’s war since last October, this latest wave of student-led mass protests in support of Palestine has evolved beyond anything seen over the past seven months.

In a recent interview, Robert Cohen, a professor at New York University, labeled it “the biggest student movement of the 21st century.”

“I think it’s the biggest student movement of the 21st century in the US,” he told local broadcaster ABC7 News.

“It’s very significant and it’s a reflection of how much the war is upsetting students, and the idea that the US should be more cautious with what it does with its military aid.”

Fire sparked in US

The origins of the massive student movement can be traced to Columbia University in the US, where students set up encampments in April to condemn Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza and demand that the university administration divest from all companies linked to Israel.

Since then, there have been encampments or sit-ins at more than 130 universities across the country, according to the latest tally by US news outlet Axios.

These include major names such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT and University of California, Los Angeles along with dozens more colleges and universities.

US authorities have launched increasingly violent crackdowns on the mostly peaceful protesters, leading to thousands of arrests and shocking images of students and faculty being brutalized by police and other law enforcers.

According to the Axios tally, more than 2,900 people have now been arrested at protests on at least 61 college campuses across the US.

There are also growing divisions among university faculty and administrations, with many professors and lecturers coming out in support of students.

Despite the violence and vilification, the protests have been successful in achieving their objectives in some places.

According to a report by US news outlet The Intercept, at least seven universities nationwide have agreed to “at least some of the student protesters’ demands regarding complicity with Israel’s violence in Palestine.”

Canada and Mexico

Over recent weeks, students have launched pro-Palestine protests at university campuses in Canada.

At McGill University in Quebec, dozens of protesters continue to defy pressure from the administration and police attempts to disperse them, standing firm on their demand for divestment.

They received a boost when a court rejected a request for an injunction that would have forced them to leave.

Demonstrations have also been held at several other universities, including the University of Calgary, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, University of British Columbia.

The latest pro-Palestine encampment was set up at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where over 100 students and faculty gathered on Thursday, according to broadcaster CBC.

Down south in Mexico, students have set up an encampment at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the largest public university in the country.

The students are calling on both the university and the Mexican government to break ties with Israel, denouncing its “imperialist genocide in Gaza” and criticizing the country’s close ties with Tel Aviv in trade, intelligence and defense.

Up in arms in Europe

Across the Atlantic, another hub of mass student protests has emerged with encampments and sit-ins at campuses in several European nations.

In the UK, encampments have been pitched at major institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford universities, where students are pushing administrations to divest from companies linked to Israel.

There have also been protests at University College London, with students calling on the university to end its cooperation with companies and banks that provide financial support to Israel and to condemn Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Other universities, including Newcastle, Bristol, Warwick, Leeds, Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam, also saw demonstrations, while Goldsmiths University in London has pledged to address student demands.

At Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin, students have set up tents decked out with Palestinian flags and banners with messages such as “Israel is a terrorist state,” “End the genocide,” “From the river to the sea,” and “Free Palestine.”

Over in France, authorities launched a crackdown on pro-Palestine protesters, some of whom were on hunger strike, at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in the capital.

Protesters at Sorbonne University in Paris have also faced brutal police action in recent days, with dozens arrested as authorities moved in to clear their encampments by force, drawing widespread condemnation.

French high school students also staged demonstrations earlier this week, demanding government efforts for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and recognition of the Palestinian state.

German universities, among them institutions in Berlin, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Bremen, have witnessed mass student protests and violent police crackdowns.

German police recently broke up a demonstration at Humboldt University in Berlin, arresting several protesters and university students, and consequently prompting a scathing response from over 100 Germany-based academics.

In a statement, the academics condemned the eviction of the protest camp at the Free University of Berlin, underlining that they “defend their right to peaceful protest, which also includes the occupation of university premises.”

In the Netherlands, authorities carried out violent raids on student protesters at the University of Amsterdam, beating several people and arresting at least 125. There have also been protests at other sites such as Utrecht University and the Technical University of Delft.

In Italy, students have set up encampments at campuses including the University of Bologna, University of Sapienza and other colleges in Rome and Naples.

Over in Spain, protests and encampments have been seen at several campuses, among them the University of Valencia, University of Barcelona, University of the Basque Country, University of Malaga and the Complutense University of Madrid.

In Switzerland, protests have been held at several universities, including Lausanne University, ETH Zurich, University of Geneva and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

In Austria, dozens of protesters have pitched camps at the University of Vienna, where police carried out raids and arrested at least three protesters.

In Belgium, students have staged demonstrations at the Free University of Brussels and Ghent University, calling for an end to Israel’s war and particularly a halt to its invasion of the southern Gaza region of Rafah.

In Finland’s capital, a solidarity group called Students for Palestine has set up an encampment at the University of Helsinki, demanding total divestment from Israeli-linked companies and termination of academic ties with Israeli universities.

Asia-Pacific and Middle East

All the way across the globe, students and activists also set up encampments at major universities in Australia, including in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

In New Zealand, students have staged protests at Auckland University, demanding the end of ties with Israeli universities and companies.

The university, however, blocked students from setting up an encampment, drawing criticism from academics and staff who have urged support for student demonstrations.

Pro-Palestine student demonstrations also spread to Japan, with an encampment set up at the University of Tokyo, following protests at other campuses including Waseda University.

In South Korea, there have been protests at the Seoul National University, organized by its Palestine solidarity club called Soobak, which means watermelon in Korean.

In Bangladesh, hundreds of students have been staging pro-Palestine rallies, with the latest one culminating in a sit-in near the US Embassy in the capital Dhaka.

Universities in the Middle East have also seen pro-Palestine protests in recent weeks, including Egypt’s American University in Cairo and the Lebanese American University in Beirut.​​​​​​​

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