Belgian, Dutch university students join pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests

University students in Amsterdam demand end to cooperation with Israel, while protest at Ghent’s university to last until Wednesday

Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel students wave Palestinian flags and placards as they occupy Amsterdam University campus on May 6, 2024. (Nick Gammon / AFP)
Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel students wave Palestinian flags and placards as they occupy Amsterdam University campus on May 6, 2024. (Nick Gammon / AFP)

AMSTERDAM/BRUSSELS — Students in the Netherlands and Belgium occupied parts of the universities of Amsterdam and Ghent on Monday to protest against Israel’s war against Hamas, joining international student protests inspired by those on US campuses.

At a campus of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in downtown Amsterdam, hundreds of students set up camp, pitching dozens of tents, playing in drum circles, and barricading access with wooden pallets.

The students want UvA and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) to stop their partnerships with Israel.

Painting a banner with a friend, 21-year-old political science student Layla said the protest was about solidarity.

“As an individual, I feel I can’t do much… so every little bit feels like I am at least doing something. Just being here shows we don’t support the actions of the Dutch government,” she said, declining to give her last name for fear of reprisals.

A UvA spokesperson said that, while it condoned the protest during the day, it will not tolerate students staying the night.

Pro-Palestinian student protesters and activists attend a demonstration at the entrance of Lausanne University’s (UNIL) Geopolis building, occupied by anti-Israel students, in Lausanne on May 4, 2024. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“If students decide to spend the night, we will report it to the police,” he said.

VU did not reply to a request for comment.

In neighboring Belgium, some 100 students also occupied a part of Ghent’s university, UGent.

Footage shared on social media shows students surrounded by tents chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has to go” in one of UGent’s buildings.

Several UGent employees and professors have signed an open letter supporting the protest and condemning the university’s decision to continue research collaboration with Israel.

“UGent never gives permission to occupy buildings, but if this happens, a general framework of agreements applies,” rector Rik Van de Walle said in a statement, adding that UGent subjects universities with which it collaborates to a human rights investigation.

Anti-Israel protesters at the George Washington University campus in Washington, DC, May 2, 2024. (Tani Levitt)

The Ghent university students said the protest would last until Wednesday.

While protests against Israel’s war in Gaza have been ongoing since the war began seven months ago with Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and kidnapped 252, they were thrown back into the spotlight last month after students at Columbia University in New York City erected a protest encampment on campus.

Police shut down the encampment and arrested more than 100 people, but the demonstrators set it up again and have since refused to voluntarily clear out after negotiations with university administration failed. Last week, the protesters broke into and occupied Hamilton Hall on campus and were evicted by the New York Police Department with demonstrators being arrested again. Columbia announced on Monday that it was canceling its main commencement ceremony in light of the protests.

In support of the Columbia protests, students in other universities around the US, as well as on campuses in countries in Europe, have set up similar encampments and occupied university buildings too, with varying results. Students have been arrested at universities in California, North Carolina, and Texas, while Northwestern and Brown Universities reached agreements with their protesters.

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