The student view from Ohio State’s pro-Palestine protest crackdown

Nearly 40 people were arrested last week after six hours of prayers, chants and calls for OSU to acknowledge the genocide and divest from Israel. Here's an account from two of the students arrested.
The pro-Palestine protest on Ohio State's South Oval on Thursday, April 25.
The pro-Palestine protest on Ohio State's South Oval on Thursday, April 25.Taylor Dorrell

Editor’s Note: This piece was initially slated to run under the byline of two students arrested when the Ohio State Highway Patrol cracked down on a pro-Palestine protest staged outside of the student union last week. In consulting with attorneys, however, the two were advised not to publish anything under their names pending resolution in their cases. In order to preserve the students’ account, and with their permission, Matter News has chosen to publish the piece anonymously.

As a crowd of around 300 filtered into the plaza last Thursday, we were greeted by familiar faces in the sunny evening light. We responded with hugs and smiles, glad to find community despite a growing police presence forming on the South Oval. We were there to fight for Gaza and Palestine, united under a common rallying cry: “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest!”

The organizers gathered the crowd and marched us peacefully down to the South Oval, where we formed a large circle. The calming and melodic sound of du’a (an Islamic prayer of supplication) soon spread across the crowd, a speaker asking Allah to protect the people of Gaza. We took a moment to remember why we were there: Gaza. Bombs. Children. Rafah. Palestine. 

The calm of that moment soon passed, as organizers from Students for Justice in Palestine announced that we would use this gathering to demand that OSU divest from Israel and cease providing financial support for genocide. People then started to erect an encampment in the center of the circle. Green tents emerged, and undergraduates began to help each other fit together the metal poles, frantically snapping the tents into place. Inside the tents, students sat quietly or sang and prayed.

As the small encampment began to form, a police car across the lawn announced something over the loudspeaker. The announcement was drowned out by student chants – “Whose campus? Our campus!” – and Jewish voices were immediately called forward to lead us in prayer. There was stillness for the Mourner’s Kaddish. And then Oseh Shalom, a prayer for peace.

What followed over the next five hours was a communal and spiritual experience. The circle of protesters stood strong, dealing with heat and then cold. As the hours passed, the circle widened, with student protestors erecting more tents and creating space for supplies, many of which were strategically carried in by white allies with backpacks. In order to quiet the cops, who every so often interrupted on the loudspeaker, rather than speeches we adopted chants, which were loud and passionate and never tired throughout the night: “Free, free Palestine!”; “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry. We will never let you die!”

We cared for each other, passing bottles of water from the center of the circle to the outside, and reminding each other to stay hydrated through a simple call and response. As the sun went down, the organizers ordered pizzas and passed around snacks, taking care to ensure that protesters were eating. Blankets were circulated, and the elderly were wrapped up into sleeping bags. 

But in the darkness, we noticed small changes. More cop cars moved onto the South Oval. Sheriff’s buses began to park on 12th Street, primed for mass arrests. And overhead, helicopters circled with spotlights trained on the protesters. As Muslim students and community members moved into the center of the circle to pray, a large group of Ohio State Highway Patrol officers began to form on one side of the South Lawn. They were dressed in body armor, with riot shields at the ready to protect them from the crowd of young protesters.  

As time passed and the circle protecting the center thinned out, the cops moved in – a large mass pushing aggressively against the backs of the human chain. Chaos. Screams. “THEY ARE PRAYING!” Organizers mobilized, reminding students to lock arms in order to protect those in the center. A chant begins from somewhere nearby: “Let them pray! Let them pray!” We are screaming and pleading and chanting so loud, and the police are pounding and pounding and pounding on our backs. And we are standing strong. “Let them pray!”

It takes what feels like hours, and by then we’ve accepted our fate. The chain is broken. We fall to the ground. Boots and hands and screams. And finally, “You are under arrest.” 

The protesters arrested last week are asking the larger community to join in solidarity with Palestine by donating to HEAL Palestine.

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