Flares and barricades as pro-Palestinian campus unrest hits Amsterdam

Dutch police arrest more than 100 people after activists light flares in US-inspired 'encampment'

Clashes erupted at the University of Amsterdam after pro-Palestinian protesters set up a tent camp. EPA
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More than 100 people were arrested at a Dutch campus protest for Palestine overnight, as student unrest continues to widen in Europe over the war in the Middle East.

Clashes erupted involving riot police after activists declared they had set up a pro-Palestinian "encampment" at the University of Amsterdam.

Organisers said they were “taking back this campus” in solidarity with Palestine and “in the spirit” of student protests that began in the US.

Tuesday saw a fresh wave of student unrest as tents sprung up in Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna and Copenhagen while rallies continued at Oxford and Cambridge.

Activists in Berlin formed a human chain around a tent encampment amid a heavy police presence at the city's Free University.

In London, students in a "liberated zone" at the School of Oriental and African Studies proclaimed a list of demands including free rein for pro-Palestinian speech.

Across the US and Europe, activists are demanding that university bosses cut ties with academics and businesses in Israel.

Campaigners in Dublin declared a "partial victory" after Trinity College said it would review its ties to Israel.

However, Dutch police intervened to break up the Amsterdam sit-in after saying it had “created an unsafe situation” due to barricades blocking emergency services.

The protest “also took on a violent character” as fireworks were lit and large stones were lifted from the ground, police said.

They said Dutch prosecutors authorised an eviction after Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsema failed to reach an agreement with organisers.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations at University of Amsterdam – in pictures

Activists had been asked to bring tents, sleeping bags, toiletries and reusable cutlery to prepare for a long sit-in.

In a social media message shortly before 3am, organisers said they were being “violently evicted” by police in riot vans.

Footage on Dutch television showed police wielding batons advancing on the protesters and smashing up tents in the early hours of Tuesday.

Police said those involved “were repeatedly offered the opportunity to leave voluntarily” before 125 were arrested.

A group of academics called Dutch Scholars for Palestine voiced support for the activists, saying there were “times where students are the teachers”.

“We have to resist political frames that will cast their efforts as anti-Semitic or a danger to the university community,” they said.

“As the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza increases … we should be proud of our students who are standing up to these abhorrent atrocity crimes.”

Under pressure from students, the University of Amsterdam on Monday published a list of eight research projects with ties to Israel.

It said one was about detecting explosives but “does not contribute to Israel's military actions”, while others involved machine learning, gender issues and safer streets.

“The war between Israel and Hamas has a significant impact on individual students and staff within our community. We understand the need to have discussions on this topic at the university,” the university said.

It said demonstrations were allowed under rules including “no face coverings, no blockades, no overnight stays, no atmosphere of intimidation, and education and research must be able to continue uninterrupted”.

Campus unrest spreads

Universities have become a key focus for Gaza-related unrest in the West since protests began at New York's Columbia University last month.

The student movement subsequently spread across the US and has popped up at European universities including in the UK, France and Belgium.

Students at Belgium's Ghent University occupied a building on Monday with demands on both the Gaza conflict and climate change.

They are planning a three-day sit-in to press for an “action plan” on cutting ties with Israeli institutions “complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”.

Pro-Palestinian protests at universities in Europe – in pictures

In France, police entered the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris to remove activists who had occupied buildings.

The protest had forced the university to turn to remote learning as buildings were closed at Sciences Po, whose alumni include French President Emmanuel Macron.

Unrest in Britain has included student mobilisation at Oxford, Cambridge and University College London that escalated at the weekend.

In Germany, activists in Berlin are campaigning against a new law that will make it easier to expel people from university, after an attack on a Jewish student.

Updated: May 07, 2024, 3:14 PM