Last night, in a new display of repression by university administrations and the mayor of New York, the NYPD was called to dismantle the Gaza Solidarity Encampments at Columbia University and at the City University of New York (CUNY). Tens of students were arrested in an attempt to silence their protests against the war and the massacre of Palestinians. Tensions had escalated since Monday, when Columbia University threatened to evict students from the encampment and suspend them if they failed to identify themselves with the administration. However, the students were not intimidated. They reacted by massively coming out in support of the encampment and, on Monday night, by occupying Hamilton Hall, a building on campus renamed Hind’s Hall, in honor of a 6-year-old child killed in Gaza in the past months. It was this occupation that convinced the university to call in around one thousand police officers to have the students arrested.

Here, we publish an interview realized last Sunday with Jihad, an undergraduate student at CUNY and one of the students who was arrested last night after having participated since April 25th in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment set at the City College of New York. While the encampment at Columbia University had already been made completely inaccessible by the police, the one at City College was open to the public and participated by hundreds of students, activists, university staffers, professors and residents of the neighborhoods around the campus, like Harlem and Hamilton Heights. As Jihad told us, CUNY is the largest public university in New York City, with a working-class student population made up of African-Americans, Latinos, Arabs and immigrants. Such a composition is fueling the antiwar protests and allowing students to build connections between the fight against genocide in Gaza and broader anti-racist struggles.

TSS: When did the encampment at City College start? What are your demands to the university and your goals in general?

Jihad: The encampment started on Thursday, April 25th at 9 a.m. We had been planning it for a while in advance, but we kept it under wraps. We didn’t want any doxing going on. We didn’t want the Zionist pig Mayor Eric Adams to get involved and send NYPD. Our demands here are many. But the most important one is divestment. Simply put, divestment is pulling of all funding from the Zionist entity. Now, CUNY, since 2019 has funded over $300 million into Israel. And not into like soda companies, but into companies that produce guns, into Lockheed Martin, into companies that build some of the most advanced fighter jets to terrorize and colonize the Palestinian people from the skies. So, ours is not a crazy request. It’s something very simple. We pay for this college. This is a working-class college. And it is, simply put, fair that our money doesn’t go to the colonization, genocide, and terrorization of our people.

In general, we have five demands. Number one is divest. Number two is boycott. Number three is solidarity with the Palestinian people. Number four is demilitarize our schools. You saw in Columbia University they sent in the police to go stop these protesters. We saw the same thing in Texas earlier. And then number five is a people’s CUNY. We want a university tuition-free like it was at one point in time. This is a school for the working class. Many people skip out on college and a beautiful education because they simply can’t afford it, and the result of this is that we have more young people going to work instead of receiving an education.

TSS: Can you tell us something more about CUNY. We know it is a public university, a working-class university, the one with the highest attendance of African-American, Latino, Arab and immigrant students. How does this composition of the student body impact the protest?

Jihad: It’s something very beautiful, particularly if you look at it in contrast with Columbia University, which isn’t that far from here, less than twenty blocks away. Columbia is an Ivy League school, one of the most prestigious colleges. You have to have something like 100 on average in high school to get into them and a beautiful resumé. The thing about Columbia University is that they are the children of millionaires and sometimes even billionaires. They are the ruling class that we are trying to shake off of our shoulders. You know, it is beautiful that the ruling class started this trend. It’s something very iconic and interesting that the ruling class started it. And now the working class in CUNY, we have Black, Brown, Arab, Jewish students all over extremely diverse campuses. It’s beautiful that the fight is not only in the hands of the working class anymore, it is in the ruling class. The ruling class cannot do it without the working class. The working class cannot do it without the ruling class. It’s beautiful that now we are just two hands that clap together.

TSS: Are you trying to connect the struggle for Palestine with other struggles, and particularly with anti-racist struggles here in New York?

Jihad: Absolutely, we believe that the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ movement, the free Puerto Rico movement, the Free Palestine movement are all connected. We support each other. We keep us safe. You can’t expect support from people if you don’t support them. When George Floyd was killed in 2020, there were huge protests all along Palestine. There were pictures of George Floyd painted on the apartheid wall. The Free Palestine movement is an anti-racist movement. The Zionist occupation is an extremely racist occupation that reproduces apartheid and enforces the brutalization of the Palestinian people.

TSS: What happens now? How do you plan to continue and expand the protest?

Jihad: In the beginning, the idea was that this should be only a protest here at City College, but then we decided to make it into a protest that could involve all of CUNY, which has 25 campuses all over New York City. So, we started to involved students from the whole university, but also the CUNY staff and employees, the professors and the community at large. A lot of the people here have been out of college for thirty or fifty years, but they all came together. I don’t see this encampment ending any time soon. We’re here. We’re not leaving until our five demands are met. Our negotiation team is extremely brilliant. And we’re going to stay principled.

TSS: Are you in contact with other campuses in New York and around the US?

Jihad: We’re connected with many campuses. We have ambassadors that keep in touch with each other, so to speak. We have a couple of people that help run this campus at Columbia. We have a couple of people from Columbia here. We have people going back and forth. We’re all in connection. We’re all fighting for the same goal, which is divestment. And we won’t stop until we get it.

TSS: The Biden administration is continuing to support Israel and to fund its army despite the ongoing genocide in Gaza. How do you react to that? What do you think will be the political consequences of the protests in the United States?

Jihad: I think Joe Biden is trending or is treading on very thin ice. The Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Black, Brown and Latino vote is what got him into office. I literally went and stood in a line for two hours and voted for him. And here we are. He’s unequivocally genociding my people. He’s unapologetic about it. This is a slap in the face for all the people who waited in line to go to vote for him. And if he doesn’t meet our demands, he’s out of there. The election is coming up. He will not win.

TSS: We are seeing that in many encampments several protestors are Jewish. Yet, the protests have been accused of being antisemitic. How do you respond to those accusations?

Jihad: I tell the people who are calling this encampment antisemitic to come through. I think there’s more Jewish people than Muslims here. Honestly. This encampment is beautiful. Every couple of minutes we have a rabbi go up and speak, saying that the Torah teaches not to brutalize, not to murder, not to kidnap, not to steal. The Jewish religion is a beautiful one, and it’s sad and disgusting to see how the Zionists have hijacked this beautiful religion and turned it into a catalyst for their war. I haven’t heard one bad word spoken about Jews. I’ve been here four days and I have not heard the word “Jew” once. “Zionist” is the only word. As Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims, we see the Jews as our cousins. We call each other cousins. We don’t see them as terrorists. The Zionists are the terrorists. And we will not bend on that at all. We will continue to condemn Zionism, while the Jews are our brothers. The Jews that are supporting us here are among the bravest people on earth. I was speaking to one of them who told me he grew up in an extremely Zionist family. And then when he went to college he opened his horizons, he started looking at the truth and now he’s a pro-Palestine supporter. He’s been sleeping here for days and I’ve been seeing him every day.

TSS: We see that the genocide in Gaza is part of a broader scenario of war and military escalation that we see not only in the Middle East but also in Europe, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are witnessing an increase in military spending everywhere in the world. What do you think can be the role of students in opposing this increasing world-war scenario?

Jihad: The students are the backbone of the world. They are the future and the leaders of tomorrow. The demise of South African apartheid was possible thanks to the students, in this very college and in colleges all across the country. Also in that case, Columbia spearheaded the revolution, so to speak. Israel is not a giant. Israel is a very weak country. They cannot function and run the war without the United States funding them. This image of Israel being an untouchable empire is a false reality that they want to push. The students’ uprising, the students’ antiwar sentiment is the same that we saw during the protests against the Vietnam War. If the students keep showing up the way we are doing, we can get there. This is a beautiful encampment. This isn’t a ragtag. We have 100 tents. We have a medical tent, a media tent that we’re sitting in right now. We have funding from outside sources. We have supplies. We’re here for a while. We’re not leaving until we get it.