US university apologizes after contractors spray paint in faces of pro-Palestine protesters

LONDON: The president of a Cleveland university in the US state of Ohio has apologized to students after hired contractors sprayed pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the face earlier this week while attempting to cover up a mural, local media has reported.

Students at Case Western Reserve University painted the Advocacy and Spirit walls on Monday night with the Palestinian flag and messages that included “I dream of breaking the siege,” “Come together in peace” and the number of Palestinian children killed in Gaza since war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Cleveland.com said.

Prompted by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israel retaliated with an offensive that has so far killed almost 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A video showed the students, who are accusing the contractors of assault, trying to block the contractors from painting over the wall by standing in front of it, and one student wearing a face shield, was seen completely covered in white paint.

The video was shared by the Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com by Case’s Students for Justice in Palestine group.

The contractors had been hired by the university’s president, Eric Kaler, early on Tuesday because “the administration said the messaging was ‘threatening, intimidating and antisemitic,’” Cleveland.com said, adding that he later released a statement apologizing to the community for the incident, saying he was “disturbed by what occurred.”

He added: “Let me be clear: No students — or any individuals — should ever be treated this way, especially on a campus where our core values center on providing a safe, welcoming environment. This is not who we are as an institution, and I am deeply sorry this ever occurred.”

Palestinian-Ameican student, Ameer Alkayali, 18, who was seen being completely sprayed in the video, said: “I stood against the wall, and the painters asked ‘Should we continue?’ The cops showed general confusion and didn’t tell them to stop. So, as seen in the video, they continue to just paint right over us.

“They told us to not put our hands in front of the machine because it’s dangerous. And we put our hands up, and they still continued to paint on our hands and sprayed us with it?”

Alkayali, who has been protesting with Case students sine they set up their encampment last week has also previously been detained and released by local police and now says “plans to take legal action against Case’s administration and its public safety department,” Cleveland.com reported.

“We were coughing, and it didn’t come out of my skin for hours,” he said. “Like it’s still in my hair. I can see it under my nails, and there was no sort of medical or any assistance with the situation after from Case or local police.”

Case said it was investigating the incident and since then, the wall has been painted over with a pro-Israeli message, saying: “They call for intifada so we call them terrorists.”

“Kaler said the college will ‘hold individuals responsible for this behavior, including the failure of our own officers to intervene,’” Cleveland.com said.

On Wednesday, “Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and the city’s police chief, Annie Todd, urged Kaler and his administration to think of the students’ rights,” the news outlet said.

“We support 1st Amendment rights and implore CWRU leadership to consider this and think about how the decisions they make and the actions they take – especially against those who are abiding by the law – will influence some of the progress we have collectively made as a city. At the same time, we urge individuals to demonstrate peacefully,” Bibb and Todd said.

Sit-ins and demonstrations demanding an end to the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip continued to spread across several American and European universities, while local media reported that US police have arrested or detained more than 2,400 students who participated in protests in support of Palestine.

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