On Campus and Off: Documenting the Protests at Columbia University

Rachel Cobb Photographs a Week of Unrest at NYC’s Ivy League School

On April 17, students at Columbia University set up an encampment in protest of Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, while also calling for Columbia to divest from its financial ties to Israel. Since then, campuses across America—and around the world—have followed suit, triggering a wide range of reactions by university administrations, from successful negotiations to brutal police repression. The following photographs were taken on and around Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus between April 26 and April 30.


On April 29, Columbia University’s administration gives students in the encampment until 2:00pm to clear out or be suspended. Hundreds gather to support the protesters even as the administration carries through with its promise. That night, students, many of whom had been suspended, take over Hamilton Hall and barricade themselves inside.

David Lederer and his twin Jonathan, Columbia University students, wave Israeli flags in front of Butler Library overlooking the pro-Palestinian student encampment. David said his intention was to send a message to other Jewish students that they are still welcome and safe on the campus.

Anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox rabbis from the Neturei Karta group gather outside Columbia University to support the pro-Palestinian student protestors encamped inside. They believe Jews worldwide exist in a “divinely decreed exile” therefore they are forbidden from creating a Jewish state. Abraham Hamra, displaced from Syria in 1994, shouts at a rabbi, Yisroel Dovid Weiss, claiming he’s causing antisemitic hate. “Who do you want to listen to,” he shouts “this European white privileged man or me, a Syrian Jew?”

A subway entrance spray-painted with “Free Palestine” is changed to “Free Hostages” at a Bring Them Home demonstration to support the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7th and still held in captivity as Israel’s assault on Gaza continues.

Outside Columbia University, where pro-Palestine students are encamped, Guy Avoth, an Israeli wearing a Golda Meir t-shirt, joins a Bring Them Home demonstration.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) negotiator Sueda Polat speaks to the international press reiterating student demands that Columbia divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation and sever ties with Israeli universities.

Students protesting the administration’s threat of suspension gather in front the encampment and the structures in place for graduation tents.

Pro-Palestinian supporters rally outside Columbia University in support of students encamped inside.

The night after students occupied Hamilton Hall and renamed it Hind Hall for a six-year-old Palestinian girl killed by Israel forces, the NYPD shut down blocks up Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan and locked down students in their dorms. Police in riot gear stormed Columbia University to clear out Hamilton Hall and the student encampment. Of the 112 people arrested, 80 were affiliated with the university.

After police clear out Hamilton Hall and the student encampment, Columbia’s president Dr. Minouche Shafik asks them to stay on campus until after graduation to make sure another encampment does not spring up.


See more of Rachel Cobb’s work on Instagram.

Rachel Cobb
Rachel Cobb
Rachel Cobb is a photographer who lives in New York City. She has worked for numerous publications including The New York Times, Time magazine and Rolling Stone magazine. Her award-winning book Mistral: The Legendary Wind of Provence was published by Damiani in 2018. You can find her on the web at @rachelcobbphoto.

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