Police disband anti-Israel protesters at Berlin, Amsterdam and Zurich universities

Demonstrations over the war in Gaza and academic ties with Israel have begun to spread across Europe, but remain much smaller in scale than those seen in the US

Anti-Israel activists face police forces at the university campus of the Free University of Berlin, Germany, on May 7, 2024. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
Anti-Israel activists face police forces at the university campus of the Free University of Berlin, Germany, on May 7, 2024. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

Police on Tuesday broke up anti-Israel demonstrations at universities in Berlin, Amsterdam and Zurich, which were inspired by similar demonstrations on campuses around the world.

German police cleared an anti-Israel protest camp on Tuesday at a courtyard of the Freie Universität Berlin, which had called for a stop to Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

Some 100 people set up two dozen tents on the campus on Tuesday, joining a call by the so-called “Student Coalition Berlin” to occupy German universities.

Students from various Berlin universities joined the anti-Israel protest, carrying Palestinian flags and shouting slogans supporting Palestinians and denouncing Israel and Germany.

The student group demanded that criminal charges be dropped against students and others who had shown solidarity with Palestinians on campuses, and for the universities to publicly oppose planned reforms to Berlin’s senate that would enable the expulsion of students on political grounds.

They also urged banning police from the campus and reinstating academics and staff members of German universities and research institutes who were expelled or defunded because of their anti-Israel stance.

Police officers try to remove an anti-Israel activist at the university campus of the Free University of Berlin, Germany, on May 7, 2024. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

Freie Universität Berlin said the protesters tried to enter university rooms and lecture halls aiming to occupy them, and that the university filed criminal complaints and suspended lectures in several buildings.

“This kind of protest is not dialogue oriented. An occupation of university property is not acceptable. We welcome academic debate and dialogue – but not in this form,” said Guenter Ziegler, president of Freie Universität Berlin.

Anti-Israel student protests over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and academic ties with Israel have begun to spread across Europe, but have remained much smaller in scale than those seen in the United States.

The war was sparked by the Hamas terror organization’s October 7 attack, in which some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 252 were taken hostage, mostly civilians. It is believed that 128 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Two hundred and sixty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 34,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

In Germany, more than 25 police vehicles surrounded the camp at Freie Universität Berlin and police said they cleared the area due to a university management request as the protest was not registered.

“There were isolated cases of deprivation of liberty for incitement to hatred and trespassing Freie Universität Berlin,” Berlin police wrote in a post on social media platform X, adding that those who would not comply with the orders would be taken by police and later reported.

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

At the University of Amsterdam, images on public broadcaster NOS showed police baton-charging protesters and smashing up tents at around 4 a.m. Tuesday after they refused to leave the campus.

“The demonstration took on a violent nature because later in the evening massive stones were removed from the ground,” police said in a statement.

Violence briefly erupted on Monday evening when a small group of counter-protesters wielding flares stormed the main protest.

Demonstrators blocked off some roads to the university, after which police broke up the protest to enable access by emergency services.

Some students hurled stones and fireworks at the officers when they broke up the demonstration, said police, and more than 120 were arrested.

On Tuesday morning, police began releasing some of those arrested, but dozens remained in custody.

Police also began dispersing anti-Israel protesters at the Swiss university of ETH Zurich on Tuesday, management said, after student demonstrations spread to campuses in several cities.

Anti-Israel student protesters and activists wave Palestinian flags during a demonstration at the entrance of Lausanne University’s (UNIL) Geopolis building, occupied by pro-Palestinian students, in Lausanne on May 4, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Students set up camp at Lausanne University (UNIL) last week and protests have since spread to at least three more sites in Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne.

“ETH Zurich sees itself as a place where different opinions and perspectives can and should be expressed openly. However, unauthorized actions are not accepted at ETH Zurich,” ETH university said, adding that protesters had been repeatedly asked to leave the building before police arrived.

Video footage of the protest on social media earlier showed seated protesters with keffiyehs and Palestinian flags chanting “free, free Palestine” and “viva, viva Palestina.”

Protests also began at the University of Geneva and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne on Tuesday, according to students’ social media posts.

At UNIL, hundreds of students chanted “We are all the children of Gaza” on Monday as a single security agent looked on. Management asked them to move, a UNIL statement showed, but they remained in the building on Tuesday.

Some academics have sided with students.

“We consider the steps they’ve taken to be peaceful and good natured, aimed at bringing to the public’s attention a dramatic situation,” UNIL political science professor Bernard Voutat said on Monday. “We teachers cannot remain silent.”

Police have dispersed protesters at other universities across the world including Columbia University in New York and the Sorbonne in Paris.

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