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Mass arrests at Penn and MIT amid Gaza protests

                                Police detain pro-Palestinian protesters as they block the entrance to the Stata Center parking garage at MIT while demanding the university divest from Israel, among other demands, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday.
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Police detain pro-Palestinian protesters as they block the entrance to the Stata Center parking garage at MIT while demanding the university divest from Israel, among other demands, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

Police dismantled protest camps and arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian activists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania today, in the latest crackdowns on demonstrations roiling U.S. campuses.

Philadelphia officers in riot gear pushed reporters away from the encampment at the University of Pennsylvania before tearing down tents and tossing the belongings of protesters in a trash truck, the student newspaper reported. About 33 people were arrested on the Ivy League campus, Penn’s public safety department said.

A similar scene unfolded simultaneously at MIT near Boston, where student journalists reported that riot police arrested at least 10 student protesters before flattening the encampment and discarding their belongings.

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The dawn raids were the latest efforts by school and local authorities to end such demonstrations at dozens of universities around the country.

Many university leaders have called the encampments safety hazards and sought to end them ahead of May commencement ceremonies, which draw large crowds of outside visitors to campuses.

Officials at Harvard University today began issuing suspensions to students who were involved in an encampment on the Ivy League school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus, according to an Instagram post by the school’s Palestine Solidarity Committee.

On Monday, Interim Harvard President Alan Garber said the encampment was disrupting the educational environment as students were taking final exams and preparing for commencement. He said participants faced suspension, restricting them from campus and possibly barring them from taking exams and residing in university housing.

“Disciplinary procedures and administrative referrals for placing protesters on involuntary leave continue to move forward,” a school spokesperson said in a statement today, without specifying the number of students suspended.


The protesting students are demanding a cease-fire in Israel’s incursion into Gaza and have demanded their schools divest from companies with ties to Israel.

One New York City school affiliated with Columbia University – where protests inspired the nationwide wave of demonstrations – said on Thursday that its board of trustees had endorsed students’ divestment calls.

The Union Theological Seminary said in a statement it had decided “to withdraw support from companies profiting from the war” after months of research into its investment portfolio. It added that “our investments in the war in Palestine are small because our previous, strong anti-armament screens are robust.”

A similar step was taken by Evergreen State College in Washington state earlier this week, after officials agreed that a college committee would start proposing strategies for “divestment from companies that profit from gross human rights violations and/or the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The agreement was signed by Evergreen representatives and students on Tuesday, and protesters cleared the encampment themselves on Wednesday, according to local news reports.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth said that the 10 individuals arrested today peacefully had submitted to police, but that the arrests came after escalating clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters.

“It was not heading in a direction anyone could call peaceful,” she said in a statement, adding that “the cost and disruption for the community overall made the situation increasingly untenable.”

Penn Interim President J. Larry Jameson said earlier this week that “every day the encampment exists, the campus is less safe,” citing reports of harassing and threatening speech, the defacement of campus landmarks, and a video of a student being denied entry to the encampment.

Since the first mass arrests at Columbia on April 18, at least 2,600 demonstrators have been detained at more than 100 protests in 39 states and Washington, D.C., according to The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization. Some policing experts say such sweeping detentions can be counter-productive, fueling protests rather than deterring them.

Similar protests have sprung up at campuses in other countries. In western Canada, police removed protesters from an encampment at the University of Calgary on Thursday, using “non-lethal munitions,” according to a statement from the city, which said the number of arrests would be made public today.

Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles.

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