Police violence on campus is unacceptable. Students are fighting for justice

Police violence on campus is unacceptable. Students are fighting for justice

Dutch universities would rather invoke brutal police violence on their own students than consider cutting ties with Israeli genocide, writes student Rami Fransawi. ‘Shame on them.

Protestors on the bridge to the library in 2023. Image: Univers

Besiege your siege… there is no other way.’ – Mahmoud Darwish

The Student Intifada has arrived in the Netherlands. Dutch universities, occupied and liberated, are now forced by their own students to reckon with their ties to Israeli genocide, colonialism, and war crimes.

Students are rejecting complicity in Israeli genocide

At the time of writing, student encampments in solidarity with Gaza have sprung up across the Netherlands. Beginning on the Roeterseiland campus of the Universiteit van Amsterdam, the encampments then spread to Utrecht University, Groningen University, TU Eindhoven, Radboud University, and Maastricht University, with more surely to come. Students across the country have risen up, taken back and liberated their university campuses, and refused to partake in the complicity of their institution. 

We must remember why these students are protesting. For seven months, Israel – with the complete material and moral support of the Dutch government – has been destroying hospitals and schools, killing civilian men, women, and children, blocking humanitarian aid, and committing countless war crimes with 0 repercussions. The situation in Gaza is only growing more severe: as of May 2024, over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, and 1.1 million are facing imminent starvation. It is truly genocide, no less. Yet, Dutch academic institutions stubbornly refuse to cut ties with Israel. 

There are no universities left in Gaza – Israel destroyed them all. In fact, Israel has damaged or destroyed nearly 90% of Gaza’s educational infrastructure, killed at least 5,479 students, 261 teachers, and 95 university professors, and deprived at least 625,000 students of their right to education.

Gaza faces not only genocide at the hands of Israel, but also scholasticide, the ‘systemic obliteration of education through the arrest, detention or killing of teachers, students and staff, and the destruction of educational infrastructure’. As academic institutions and places of education, Dutch universities can no longer stay silent regarding the destruction of Palestinian academia and the murder of their fellow academic colleagues. 

The encampment demands are all more or less the same: disclose all ties with Israel, cut all ties with Israeli institutions complicit in genocide in Gaza, publicly condemn Israel’s genocide in Gaza and end censorship and repression of Palestinians and pro-Palestine activism on campus. 

It is also extremely important to note that these encampments have been spaces dedicated to liberation and freedom from oppression. The movement in solidarity with Palestine rejects all forms of bigotry and racism, which have no place within our protest, our goals, and our movement. Any form of racism, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia, is never tolerated in these liberated encampments centered on solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian people. The Dutch media has largely failed to highlight this. 

Universities respond with threats and violence

Students were met with shocking violence at the hands of the police, and at the behest of their own university administrators. In Amsterdam and Utrecht, hundreds were arrested. Bulldozers smashed the barricades formed by students to protect the liberated campuses in Amsterdam, and riot police descended upon the crowds of students, unleashing their batons, pepper spray and police dogs.

Arrestatieteams, the Mobiele Eenheid, undercover police, police boats, drones, dozens of vans and hundreds of officers were utilized to quell the student movement. In Utrecht, undercover police wearing keffiyehs (traditional Palestinian scarves) and Palestinians flags stealthily grabbed and arrested students peacefully making their voice heard. 

Possibly in fear of more student uprisings, some universities (not including Tilburg University) have begun publicly disclosing their ties to Israeli academic institutions, companies, research projects, etc. In fact, Tilburg University has expressed its unwillingness to disclose ties to Israel at the moment. Moreover, to date, universities have refused to cut their ties to Israel. 

Miscalculations of university administrators and politicians

The universities of the Netherlands are now faced with a student movement of unparalleled determination and an unstoppable momentum. Students have decided to escalate, and fully understand that this is an escalation, as, 7 months into an ongoing genocide, universities are not merely asleep at the wheel, but actively protecting their collaborations with Israel and refusing to even consider the urgent boycott and divestment demands. 

What the university administrators and rectors of the Netherlands must now contend with is greater than a simple PR crisis. Peter-Paul Verbeek, Rector Magnificus of the UvA, and Femke Halsema, mayor of Amsterdam, made a calculated decision to crush the student occupation of the UvA with the full force of the police. Halsema and Verbeek decided to bet that unleashing violence on their own city’s and university’s students would end the encampment movement once and for all.

Seeing the tens of thousands of protestors who took to the streets of Amsterdam on Sunday in solidarity with Palestine, siccing the police onto a group of peaceful students seems to have not only failed to quell the student encampment movement, but only fueled the fire and drove more students across the country to take inspiration and set up more encampments. 

As a student organizer for Palestine myself, I strongly encourage our university administrators to consider the gravity of a decision to call the Dutch police, who are already infamous for failing to de-escalate and violating protestor’s rights. Universities have, for the last 7 months, held up platitudes such as ‘student safety’ in the faces of pro-Palestine organizers as a tool of repression.

How can these same universities now totally disregard the safety of their own students by endorsing police violence on their own campuses? It is unacceptable that students pay the price of university administrators’ hypocrisy with their safety on their own campuses. 

Looking forward, broadly and in Tilburg

The encampments will not simply stop. If there’s one thing about student movements, it’s that we don’t fear police violence – we are only emboldened by it. We also know that our protests are effective and impactful – universities wouldn’t call the police on their own students and so publicly ruin their reputations if they weren’t afraid of the possible impact of the student protests. 

University administrators, rectors, and deans across the country must now ask themselves: do they want to be remembered as the officials who protected collaborations with a state guilty of the crime of crimes, guilty of genocide? Do they want to be the officials who turned their campuses into battlegrounds between students fighting for justice and police officers tasked with suppressing justice? Do they want to be the officials who prioritize financial and academic support for genocide over the demands of their own students for an end to complicity?

Tilburg University also has a role to play in all of this. Although not (yet) faced with its own student encampment, Palestine Solidarity Tilburg has already provided all deans and heads of departments at the University with an open letter containing information on the complicity of 3 Israeli universities in genocide, universities which we have active student exchange programs with.

Palestine Solidarity Tilburg asked these schools to cut ties with the aforementioned 3 universities as well as to abide by the Palestine Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. These demands fell on deaf ears, despite the open letter also being sent to every single professor at the university (2,314 Tilburg University staff email addresses received the open letter). 

Does Tilburg University wish to stay complicit in Israeli genocide in Gaza? 

The ball is now in Tilburg University’s court, and the next actions of the Rector Magnificus, the College van Bestuur and the Deans of Tilburg University will determine whether Tilburg University stands on the right side of history, or whether it wishes to remain complicit – and inevitably face growing resistance from its own students who reject this complicity.

As stated in the open letter: ‘Future generations will reflect on these times with grief, but also with judgment. History will judge our individual, societal and institutional positions and actions in relation to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. We can no longer detach ourselves from the situation, deny responsibility, or ignore our own institution’s complicity in the systematic murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians at the hands of a fascist settler colony, slowly but surely becoming a global pariah state.’

A university is nothing without its students. Let’s not forget that. 

Rami Fransawi studies Global Law at Tilburg University and is a founding member of Palestine Solidarity Tilburg, a group of students and staff on the campus of Tilburg University advocating for Palestine.

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