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Police arrest pro-Palestine protesters on UT-Austin campus

Julius Shieh for The Texas Tribune

By Sneha Dey and William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

"Police arrest pro-Palestine protesters on UT-Austin campus" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Law enforcement officers on Wednesday handcuffed and removed at least 10 people participating in a student protest on the University of Texas at Austin campus in support of Palestine amid the Israel-Hamas war.

UT-Austin students demanding that the university divest from manufacturers supplying Israel weapons in its strikes on Gaza gathered outside the university’s Gregory Gym with plans to march to the South Lawn, where they said they would sit down throughout the day. More than 200 students had gathered as of noon.

Authorities detained the protesters after telling students they could face criminal trespass charges if they didn’t disperse. One of the protesters was helping organize the event. An officer singled him out and told other officers he would be the first to be arrested.

After they were taken away, officers told the shrinking crowd that more arrests could happen if the students didn’t disperse.

Dozens of Texas Department of Public Safety officers in horses and riot gear were also present at the scene. Some could be seen pushing protesters with their batons.

The arrests at UT-Austin come a day after pro-Palestine students staged a sit-in at the University of Texas at Dallas with similar demands, The Dallas Morning News reported.

In the six months since the decades-old conflict in the Middle East reignited in horrific violence, tensions have bubbled in campuses across the U.S. between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups.

Hamas militants attacked Israel in a surprise offensive in October that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people and the abduction of about 250 hostages. In response, the Israeli military launched a campaign that so far has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded nearly 77,000 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Two-thirds of the casualties are women and children.

The devastating violence — much of which has been shared over social media — has prompted demonstrations on campuses across the country.

Last week, Columbia University called on the New York Police Department to empty a campus encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters, which resulted in the arrest of more than 100 people. According to the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper, NYPD did not report violence or injuries. Some Jewish students have reported feeling unsafe and harassed due to the protests.

In response to the arrests, Columbia’s faculty senate planned to hold a vote on a resolution to censure President Nemat Shafik. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for Shafik’s resignation for what they say was a failure to protect students from antisemitism.

Similar protests have been held at other universities, including New York University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Protests on Texas campuses have already tested administrators’ handling of the fraught subject and their commitment to free speech on campuses. As pro-Palestine and pro-Israel students engage in protests and heated discussions, school leaders have struggled to strike a balance between their roles as moderators and facilitators of intellectual debate on campus.

Universities have also faced pressure from state leaders, who have been public about their support of Israel. Gov. Greg Abbott, who traveled to Israel in November to reaffirm his support, issued an executive order last month requiring schools to update their free speech policies and punish what he described as “the sharp rise in antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses.”

“Texas supports free speech, especially on university campuses, but that freedom comes with responsibilities for both students and the institutions themselves,” Abbott wrote in the order.

Ikram Mohamed and Annie Xia contributed to this story.

This is a developing story, check back for details.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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