Police break up pro-Palestine protests at Berlin, Amsterdam campuses

Police dismantle encampment at Berlin’s Free University and more than 100 activists arrested at University of Amsterdam.

A police officer sprays protesters at Freie Universitat (FU) Berlin, as pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupy a courtyard with a protest camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Berlin, Germany, May 7, 2024. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse
A police officer sprays protesters at Freie Universitat (FU) Berlin, as pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupy a courtyard with a protest camp [Annegret Hilse/Reuters]

Police have broken up a protest by several hundred pro-Palestinian activists who occupied a courtyard at Berlin’s Free University, the latest such action by authorities as protests that have roiled campuses in the United States spread across Europe.

The move on Tuesday came after activists had put up about 20 tents and formed a human chain around them to protest against Israel’s war on Gaza.

Most had covered their faces with medical masks and had draped keffiyah scarves around their heads, shouting slogans such as “Viva, viva Palestina.” Police called on the students to leave the campus at the university in the German capital.

Police could also be seen carrying some students away and some scuffles erupted between police officers and protesters. Authorities used pepper spray against some of the protesters.

“The demands of the people were pretty clear, basically saying that it’s time that Germany should take part in the protest movement around the world,” said Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane.

“They demand that the genocide they say is taking place in Gaza be stopped. They also say that students who take part in these protests should not be banned from doing so and should not lose their status as students – that is something that many students who’ve taken part in protests are afraid of,” Kane said, reporting from the scene.

The school’s administrators said in a statement that the protesters had rejected any kind of dialogue and they had therefore called in police to clear the campus.

“This form of protest is not geared towards dialogue. An occupation is not acceptable on the FU Berlin campus,” university President Guenter Ziegler said. FU is the abbreviation for Free University. “We are available for academic dialog – but not in this way.”

The administrators said some protesters attempted to enter rooms and lecture halls at Free University to occupy them.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupy a courtyard at Freie Universitat (FU) Berlin
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupy a courtyard at Freie Universitat (FU) Berlin with a protest camp [Annegret Hilse/Reuters]

Amsterdam encampment broken up

Earlier on Tuesday, police arrested about 140 activists as they broke up a similar pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam police said on social media that their action was “necessary to restore order” after protests turned violent. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Video from the scene aired by national broadcaster NOS shows police using a mechanical digger to push down barricades and officers with batons and shields moving in, beating some of the protesters and pulling down tents. Protesters had formed barricades from wooden pallets and bicycles, NOS reported.

After clearing the Amsterdam protest by early afternoon Tuesday, police closed off the area by metal fences. Students sat along the banks of a nearby canal.

“The war between Israel and Hamas is having a major impact on individual students and staff,” the school said in a statement. “We share the anger and bewilderment over the war, and we understand that there are protests over it. We stress that within the university, dialogue about it is the only answer,” it said.

Anywhere else?

Other encampments have popped up in recent days in Finland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, seemingly inspired by a wave of protests at US campuses.

In Finland, dozens of protesters from the Students for Palestine solidarity group set up an encampment outside the main building at the University of Helsinki, saying they would stay there until the university, Finland’s largest academic institution, cuts academic ties with Israeli universities.

In Denmark, students set up a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Copenhagen, erecting about 45 tents outside the campus of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The university said students can protest but called on them to respect the rules on campus grounds. “Seek dialogue, not conflict and make room for perspectives other than your own,” the administrators said on X.

On their Facebook page, members of the activist group Students Against the Occupation said their attempts to talk to the administration over the past two years about withdrawing the school’s investments from companies with ties to activities in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories have been in vain.

“We can no longer be satisfied with cautious dialogue that does not lead to concrete action,” the group said.

In Italy, students at the University of Bologna, one of the world’s oldest universities, set up a tent encampment over the weekend to demand an end to the war in Gaza as Israel prepared an offensive in Rafah, despite pleas from its Western allies against it. Groups of students organised similar protests in Rome and Naples, which were largely peaceful.

In Spain, dozens of students have spent more than a week at a pro-Palestinian encampment on the University of Valencia campus. Similar camps were set up Monday at the University of Barcelona and the University of the Basque Country. A group representing students at Madrid’s public universities announced it would step up protests against the war in the coming days.

On Friday, French police peacefully removed dozens of students from a building at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known as Sciences Po, after they had gathered in support of Palestinians.

On Tuesday, students at the prestigious institution, which counts French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and President Emmanuel Macron among its alumni, were seen entering the campus unobstructed to take exams as police stood at the entrances.

Protests took place last week at some other universities in France, including in Lille and Lyon. Macron’s office said police had been requested to remove students from 23 sites on French campuses.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies