Police, demonstrators clash at Amsterdam’s Gaza demo

Published May 9, 2024
NEW YORK: Police arrest Olga Fedorova, a journalist, during the clearing of a pro-Palestine encampment at the Fashion Institute of Technology, on Tuesday evening.—AFP
NEW YORK: Police arrest Olga Fedorova, a journalist, during the clearing of a pro-Palestine encampment at the Fashion Institute of Technology, on Tuesday evening.—AFP

THE HAGUE PARIS/WASHIN­GTON: Dutch riot police clashed with pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Wednesday after moving in to ‘clear barricades’ at Amsterdam’s main university. Images from local television outlets showed dozens of police officers (wearing riot gear) ‘exchanging’ baton blows with a group of protesters, when officers started clearing out an area in front of the Binnengasthuis building, within Amsterdam’s city centre .

“The operation has been authorised by the mayor,” they stated. The UvA alleged charges including ‘disturbing the peace and destruction of property’. Images on the local AT5 channel portrayed police arresting demonstrators, numbering a few hundred.

They went so far as ‘roughly pulling’ one individual off a front-end loader. Another protester attempted to stop a loader before jumping into a canal, to evade police attempts at making an arrest.

Images further showed police surrounding and dragging away a small yet vocal group of protesters who remained on campus, while a front-end loader was ‘pushing material used to put up the barricades into a canal’. Protesters here too, were waving placards which read “Free Palestine” and shouted “Shame on you” at police officers.

86 detained in Paris after police removed students who had set up a pro-Palestinian camp at the Sorbonne university

Police allege protesters were not ‘just’ students, but contained elements “who were not affiliated to the university and were deliberately seeking conflict with the police.”

The Amsterdam city council is due to host an emergency debate regarding the ongoing demonstrations on Friday.

Campus protests have also sprung up across the United States in weeks gone by, with students calling upon universities to cut direct or indirect financial ties with US weapons manufacturers and Israeli institutions.

The rallies have rocked colleges campuses’ and slowly but surely, have begun spreading across the globe. Pro-Israel counter-protesters at the University of California, Los Angeles, physically attacked demonstrators at an encampment.

86 detained in France

French police on Wednesday detained 86 individuals following an operation to remove students staging a pro-Palestinian occupation at the Sorbonne university in Paris, according to prosecutors. Those arrested in the police operation on Tuesday night were being held for a variety of public order offences, the statement read.

They include wilful damage, ‘rebellion’, violence against a person holding public authority, ‘intrusion into an education establishment’ and holding a ‘meeting designed to disrupt order’. A handful of students are also being held for participation in a group with a view to seeking to promote violence or damage to property.

They may only be held for an initial 24 hours, which can then be extended to another 24 hours.

George Washington University protest

Police used force in order to ‘clear’ an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters at George Washington University in the US capital on Wednesday. In similar fashion to the events that unfolded in Paris, dozens were arrested in the latest clash with students demonstrating over the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

Members of Congress allied with the Republican Party had ‘pressured local authorities’ to act on the encampment, even going so far as summoning Washington’s mayor and police chief to testify in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Just after 4am (0800 GMT) hundreds of officers moved in on a university quad, making numerous arrests and using pepper spray on demonstrators.

Police representatives stated that 33 people were arrested for “unlawful entry” and “assault on a police officer.” Officers remained on the scene till around 10:00 am, as tents were being dragged towards a garbage truck and a student held a poster reading “Free Palestine.” For context, police had declined a request from the university to disband the encampment last month, the Washington Post had reported. At the time, they cited apprehensions about moving in against peaceful protesters.

Free speech versus intimidation

President Biden and universities have tried to walk a fine line between the rights of free speech and concerns about so called intimidation. On Tuesday, Biden condemned a “ferocious surge” in ‘anti-Semitism’ in a speech at the Capitol, stating “there’s no place on any campus in America, any place in America , for anti-Semitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

Demonstrators, including Jewish student organisers, have clarified that they denounce acts of anti-Semitism. On the other hand, they accuse their detractors of conflating criticism of Israel with prejudice against Jews.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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