Dozens of students camped out overnight outside the Staller Center at Stony Brook University are asking the university to divest from Israel. Credit: Newsday

Dozens of students camped out overnight outside the Staller Center at Stony Brook University after spending hours there Tuesday protesting the Israel-Hamas war.

A spokesperson for the students said they will remain on a grassy common area outside the center and the main campus library until a list of demands they presented to campus administrators is met, including financial transparency regarding the SUNY school's investments, divestment from Israel and an “acknowledgment of genocide” of the Palestinian people.

“This is a form of protest to show the university that we want our basic demands met,” said Zubair Kabir, a sophomore at the university serving as a spokesperson for the group sb4palestine, which has organized the encampment and other rallies in recent months.

By morning, about two dozen protesters were still at the encampment, watched by about eight campus police officers posted on the perimeter of the commons.

Tarps and sleeping bags are still on the lawn. An area at the center of the commons was set up with food and water.

Many of the students huddled around each other, drinking coffee and sharing laughs Wednesday morning. Campus police stood at a distance, having their own conversations. There was no tension at the scene of the protest.

Many of the signs the students have hung up or are keeping near them focus on the idea of the university "divesting" from Israel. A cardboard box holding more than a dozen books near tables the students have been using reads "Liberated Zone Library: The People's Library."

The few people passing by on this late-semester morning didn't interact with the demonstrators.

The Stony Brook protest comes amid a wave of rallies against the ongoing war that began after Hamas militants launched an attack on Oct. 7 on Israel. The militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to stamp out Hamas, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza strip, according to the local health ministry.

Columbia University has vowed to expel protesters who occupied a building on the Manhattan college’s grounds Tuesday. Late Tuesday night, large numbers of NYPD officers began entering the campus to do just that, wearing helmets and carrying zip ties and riot shields as they took an unknown number of demonstrators into custody, according to The Associated Press.

Officers breached Hamilton Hall, an administration building on campus, to clear out the structure. The demonstrators had occupied Hamilton Hall more than 12 hours earlier, spreading their reach from an encampment elsewhere on the grounds that’s been there for nearly two weeks.

Shortly before officers entered the campus, the NYPD received a notice from Columbia authorizing officers to take action, a law enforcement official told the AP. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

More than 1,000 protesters have been arrested on campuses in states including Texas, Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Connecticut, Louisiana, California and New Jersey in recent days, some after violent clashes with police in riot gear.

So far, at Stony Brook and on other Long Island college campuses, protests have been peaceful and less frequent. Earlier this month, the university's student government passed a resolution calling on the school to boycott and divest itself from Israel. School administrators criticized the measure as “regrettable.” 

The resolution noted that numerous other college student governments have called on their schools to divest from Israel, including Columbia Law, SUNY Binghamton, UCLA and Harvard Law School.

Seven students, an alumnus and a non-student were charged with disorderly conduct at a protest at the school's administration building March 26 after they remained in the building and disrupted campus activities, school officials said. Those charges are pending in district court.

The administration building is a short walk from where the encampment..

Kabir said the group met in the area of campus known as the Staller Steps, at about 7 a.m. Tuesday. As of 8:15 p.m., he said, the group had not heard from administrators. Campus police informed the group that they could not set up tents or use megaphones as they demonstrate, Kabir said.

Campus officials told Newsday they did not see the protest as an “encampment.”

“There is no 'encampment' at Stony Brook University,” read a statement from the school's media relations team. “We have continued to allow our students to express themselves peacefully in accordance with the university’s long-standing policies and the law. We have had more than a dozen peaceful demonstrations on this campus since Oct. 7 and we continue to do so.”

The demonstration did not appear to be disrupting functions at Staller Center, a public theater and cultural arts building, or other campus facilities. The next public event planned for the theater is a concert Saturday by celebrated Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman, a resident of Shelter Island.

Campus police watched from a distance as the sun set and temperatures dipped into the low 50s.

About 50 students remained as of 8:40 p.m. They sat on tarps set up for comfort and warmed up under blankets and sleeping bags. Some gathered in prayer, while others completed schoolwork on laptops, sitting on the grass under Palestinian flags and protest signs. The group was quiet and no conflict had occurred throughout the first day, Kabir said.

“When you hear that there's over 30,000 dead people in Palestine, I think it makes sense for people to want to come out and say, ‘No, I think I'm going to take a stand against this,’ “ Kabir said.

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