On April 17, 2024, the Columbia University pro-Palestinian campus protest began, shortly spreading to other universities in the United States. More recently they have spread abroad - where I am in the United Kingdom, my town’s university has had their encampment appear about a week ago.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has now however been in the spotlight since October. I’m wondering what caused these protests to appear specifically now, rather than, say, November, January or March.

Of course, there have been pro-Palestinian (and pro-Israeli) protests since October (this Wikipedia page gives a list) - but these campus protests appear to be a more specific sub-movement within the pro-Palestine movement with a very specific demographic (students, as well as other university faculty), specific messaging (demanding the university disclose and divest their ties to Israel) and a specific method of protest (setting up an encampment on the university).

Some of the encampments beginning seem to be traceable to the coverage of the original protests, some particularly motivated by the mass arrests that were carried out (source).

But I’m wondering what the original motivation for the Columbia protest to begin specifically around mid-April was. Was there some particular event around April

  • in Israel/Palestine
  • in the United States regarding its policy
  • at Columbia university specifically

that the protesters there cite as the moment that began their encampment (or is widely held to be their inspiration)? All sources I can find regarding the Columbia encampment merely mention that it began on April 17, not why then specifically (example).

Of course, the answer could be that it was just spontaneous/what inspired the protesters was a personal event known only to them.

  • 1
    Several articles (WSJ,etc) point out that the time between end of semester and finals is typical for on campus protests. There is also growing evidence of coordination and planning via non-student groups. This is a comment because I haven't cited the sources.
    – DogBoy37
    Commented May 11 at 13:11
  • There might not be a single influence. Students might have discussed these specific issues since the beginning of the Israel/Hamas war in October 23. Commented May 11 at 13:47

2 Answers 2


No single event sparked the Columbia University encampments.

There were pro-Palestinian student protests at Columbia as early as October 12 (source, thanks Wikipedia), and the encampments can be seen as a continuation of those.

Protest movements take time to build momentum. Many events will have contributed, but the most notable is probably students and former IDF soldiers assaulting protesters with chemical weapons at Columbia on January 19 (source).

Other events occurring around the same time as the encampments include:

  1. The UN Security Council resolution for an immediate ceasefire on March 25 (source)
  2. The IDF strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy which killed 7 humanitarian aid workers on April 2 (source)
  3. The approaching IDF offensive in Rafah, which was delayed on April 15 (source) but was nonetheless a focus of global protests at the time (example)
  • grassroots? or...?
    – BCLC
    Commented May 24 at 10:46

On April 17 Columbia President was scheduled to testify before congress. E.g., Wikipedia:

On April 17, beginning around 4 am,[45] about 70 protesters sat in tents bearing the Palestinian flag on the East Butler Lawn.[46] Protesters put up banners reading "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" and "Liberated Zone".3 A substantial NYPD presence was noted outside the university as soon as the encampment was established.[35] Activity in the encampment included a teach-in and film screening.3 That morning, at about 10 am, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, an event that had been planned weeks before.[47] She had previously been invited to attend the November 2023 United States Congress hearing on antisemitism but had declined, citing a scheduling conflict.

NBC News:

The encampment at Columbia sprung up April 17, the day Shafik was grilled about on-campus antisemitism by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Shafik faced questions about her handling of antisemitism on campus after Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7 alongside two members of Columbia’s Board of Trustees and the head of its antisemitism task force. The next day, Shafik had police clear the encampment; more than 100 protesters were arrested.

Associated Press:

Students set up an encampment at Columbia University the same day university president Minouche Shafik is called for questioning before Congress. Shafik is heavily criticized by Republicans who accuse her of not doing enough to combat concerns about antisemitism on Columbia’s campus. Allegations of antisemitism arose during pro-Palestinian protests against Israel’s actions in the war in Gaza.

Given that the date of the testimony was known in advance and the protests were well organized (rather than spontaneous ones), this is likely not a mere coincidence.

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