19 California university students arrested for Palestine solidarity protest

Students at Pomona College in Southern California were heavily repressed after staging pro-Palestine protest

April 08, 2024 by Natalia Marques

Pomona College students arrested after staging protest (Screenshot via Claremont Undercurrents)

On April 5, 19 Pomona College students were arrested by the police of Claremont, California after staging a pro-Palestine protest on their campus. This aggressive move has been widely condemned by the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States. 

The arrests happened after students entered their own administrative building on campus, 18 students were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, and one student was charged with obstruction of justice. 

The students entered their administrative building, Alexander Hall, in protest of the College taking down an artistic installation of an “Apartheid Wall” that students installed to symbolize the walls that Israel has erected around occupied Palestine. 

According to the students, organizers with pro-Palestine student group Pomona Divest Apartheid, the art installation was intended to “illuminate Pomona College’s complicity in the face of an illegal occupation and genocide.” The students are highlighting the struggle taking place on campus for Pomona to divest school investments from Israel. In February, the Pomona student body voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment. In a referendum in which 59.2% of students participated, 78.29% voted for the College to “cease all academic support” for Israel, 86.17% voted for the College to disclose its “investments in all companies aiding the ongoing apartheid system within the State of Israel,” 81.67% voted for the college to divest completely from such companies, 90.79% voted for Pomona to disclose any weapons manufacturers that it investment in, and 85.16% voted for Pomona to divest completely from said manufacturers.

Pomona Divest Apartheid wrote in a December statement, “For decades, students have called on Pomona College to disclose their investment portfolio. They refuse to do so. Until Pomona College discloses, we have every reason to believe that they are profiting from the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr has no intention of respecting the student referendum. “There are many ways to help heal a broken world,” she wrote in a response, “This is not one of them.” 

Across the country, students are forming a powerful wing of the Palestine solidarity movement, and in turn facing repression from their administrations. At Columbia University in New York City, five students involved in pro-Palestine protests were suspended and served eviction notices from their housing on campus, igniting massive protests by the student body. “To my fellow students and community organizers, this is not the time to back down,” said one of the suspended students in a statement. “We must remain steadfast in our commitment to university divestment and a free Palestine. If you have been on the fence about joining the movement, the time is now.”

Columbia University students are also demanding that Columbia divest from “companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine.” They also demand that Columbia sever academic ties with Israeli universities and all other academic institutions, cease expansion into Harlem which displaces local residents, end policing on campus, and call for an immediate, permanent ceasefire. Pro-Palestine organizers on campus have denounced Columbia’s upcoming Global Center in Tel Aviv.

For decades, students across the country have organized to have their universities divest their endowments from Israeli apartheid, whether that be Israeli companies, weapons manufacturers, or corporations otherwise complicit in the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine. 

There have been some successes to this movement. Students at some universities, such as the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Michigan, have successfully pressured their administrations to pass resolutions to divest. In April, Pitzer College, an institution part of the same consortium of colleges that Pomona is a part of, became the first US academic institution to end a study abroad program in Israel, at the University of Haifa. 

Broadly, however, US academic institutions have dug their heels in and none have made any material progress in terms of divestment. But we are in unprecedented times—as the genocide continues in Gaza, time will tell how long universities can hold on to their complicity.