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Fight at UC Berkeley pro-Palestinian encampment leaves several people injured

Spreading pro-Palestinian protests turn violent; Cal campus fight reported
Spreading pro-Palestinian protests turn violent; Cal campus fight reported 05:19

Violence broke out Wednesday evening at an encampment at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus after days of peaceful assembly in response to the Israel-Hamas war, a contrast to arrests and turmoil at other American schools.

According to UC Berkeley police, just before 7 p.m., a physical altercation occurred between two opposing groups. One group attempted to take a flag of the other, resulting in injuries to at least two people. Medical personnel were called to the scene.

UC police also said additional injuries have been reported. 

A woman who shot video of the incident and wanted to remain anonymous said in a statement to CBS News Bay Area that she was with a group of pro-Israel students standing across from the Sproul Plaza with an Israeli Flag.

She said someone grabbed their flag, leading to the fight. 

"They started coming closer and closer to our group who was standing far away, peacefully holding our Israeli flags, they started saying things like Jews go back to Europe. Someone said they are going to murder us in our classrooms," the woman said in a statement. "They called us Talmudic devils and they said some other anti-Semitic stuff such as saying that we are failed experiments. They also said death to Zionists and death to Israel."  

The anonymous woman described the incident as "terrifying" and claimed that some protestors followed their group until they reached the police station.

The students living in the protest encampment who witnessed the altercation told CBS News Bay Area the fight was small and brief.

"We mostly didn't engage. We had one person -- who I had never seen at the camp, none of us knew -- who disappeared immediately after," said Hamza Mahmoud, a member of the UC Berkeley Divest Coalition. "We're not sure who this person is who just grabbed a flag."

He said the injuries that happened in the scuffle were insignificant compared to what's happening in Gaza. 

"Bloody nose, and one of our protestors got punched in the eye," said Mahmoud. "40,000 people have been killed. We're seeing on our phones that people's limbs are gone. So again, I want to re-emphasize this is not about us."  

He said with finals and summer break looming, there's no timeline for how long the camp will stay at Sproul Plaza, and that they're taking things day by day.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof later said that a total of three people suffered minor injuries in the fight. The university has not been able to confirm if any of the injured parties were students, though officials are certain that at least one is not a student. The school released the below statement on the incident:

Last night there was a brief period of skirmishes on Sproul Plaza between a group of counter-protesters and some of the protesters in the encampment. There were three people who reported minor injuries. 

We are urging everyone to avoid engaging in pointless provocation and physical conflict. 

The university strongly condemns any violence by protesters or counter-protesters and will respond to violence if it occurs. We have been assured that UCPD will pursue investigations into the alleged assault and attempted robbery.

University rules leave no room for physical conflict, harassment, or discrimination. Everyone on our campus, affiliate and non-affiliate, is expected to adhere to those rules. 

We firmly believe that everyone has a right to their beliefs, to freedom of speech, and to protection from harm.

The university has increased the security presence at the protest site on Sproul Plaza and officials noted that there was no classes or campus operations were disrupted by the skirmish.   

The outbreak of violence came the day after counter-protesters attacked the tent encampment on the UCLA campus.    

The Berkeley student camp-in was called by a coalition of groups, including the Black Student Union, the Jewish Voice for Peace at UC Berkeley and the Indigenous Graduate Student Association. 

There have been additional protest encampments and building occupations at Stanford and Cal Poly Humboldt that started last week as well as more recent protests developing on Monday at San Francisco StateSonoma State and Sac State.

The encampment and building occupations at Columbia and UCLA have been cleared by police in riot gear over the past two evenings. Over 130 people were arrested at UCLA, the California Highway Patrol said early Thursday morning.

The UC Berkeley campus became a place of occupation last week when Cal students protesting the bloodshed in Gaza created the encampment in solidarity with the large occupation happening at Columbia University and other demonstrations at campuses across the country.      

In an online statement, they are demanding: "an immediate end to the Zionist colonization of Arab lands, including the genocidal siege of Gaza; full freedom and equality for Palestinians, from the river to the sea; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties." 

They are also asking UC to boycott, divest and sanction "from all companies profiting from the colonization of Palestine."

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