‘Our university has a contract with a company that supports the Israeli army’: they will occupy the university from today


“This conflict mercilessly exposes the hypocrisy of the West,” says Basile Peeters. The 21-year-old history student is one of an estimated hundred students who will occupy the buildings of Ghent University in the coming days. “I do go to my classes and I take my laptop with me, so that I can work on my bachelor’s thesis from there.” The arguments for the action are obvious, says Basile: “There is so much injustice in the world and I want to do something about it. Then I cannot remain silent if my university, which likes to promote progressive values, refuses to sever ties with Israeli partners and is therefore de facto complicit in war crimes.”

Academic boycott

Joelle is also participating, a Master’s student in Global Studies who does not want her last name in the newspaper for security reasons. “There is always a risk; you know what people are like on social media,” she says. She is of Lebanese descent, from a village near the Israeli border, and grew up hearing stories about the Israeli occupation in Lebanon. “There have also been 300 deaths due to bombings there in recent months. Of course, this is partly a personal struggle for me: I know the Israeli violence and I feel compelled to do something.” The rapidly expanding student protests in the United States offer inspiration, Joelle admits, although according to her, the occupation plans in Ghent have been on the table for much longer. “But there is clearly momentum and I want to be part of that.”

Basile Peeters, history student at Ghent University: ‘There is so much injustice in the world and I want to do something about it.’Image Sanad Latifa

The demand that unites students worldwide, from Columbia University in New York to London’s University College to Ghent University, is the so-called academic boycott. They believe that educational institutions can no longer collaborate with Israeli universities or companies that in one way or another support or facilitate the war and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

This ranges from researchers from the VUB and KU Leuven who collaborate with the Israeli Technion Institute, a technology campus that provides the army with knowledge for drones, defense systems and other weapons, to the VUB, which has a service contract with computer company HP. “That company also supports the Israeli army, so we insist that our university not renew that contract,” explains philosophy student Isa Tomasevic.

‘You see those gruesome images on the phone and think: now the red line has been crossed. But the violence continues’

Joelle, Global Studies student

Basile – who, like Isa, is also a member of COMAC, the PVDA student association – is convinced that many students will join them in this. He was actually elected as a student representative, with the academic boycott as one of the spearheads of his campaign. Universities play an important social role. That is why we must ensure that our knowledge, research and education are not used for the wrong purposes. That feeling is very much alive among students, who sign our petitions and open letters en masse.”

Deliberate violence

This involvement has a lot to do with the current visibility of the conflict: the consequences of the bombings can be seen at any time via social media. “It is the first time that I have experienced human rights violations on this scale,” says Witse Hofmans of kdg4palestine, who, as a first-year social work student at the Karel de Grote University College, organizes a sit-in every Thursday. “The apartheid system and the genocide are well documented by local journalists on social media. This time we can’t pretend we don’t know what’s happening.” That is also frustrating, Joelle adds: “You see those gruesome images on the phone and think: now the red line has been crossed, now it will stop. But that doesn’t happen, the violence continues.”

Witse Hofmans from kdg4palestine: ‘It is the first time that I have experienced human rights violations on this scale.’Image Sanad Latifa

Kdg4palestine therefore asks that the university choose a side. “We want the institution to expressly condemn the deliberate violence in Palestinian schools, academics and students,” says Witse. He cites the international research project Cosmos, in which his university is participating, as is the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Beit Berl College. “The university must withdraw. At this stage of the genocide we must dare to make difficult decisions.”

The same story at the University of Antwerp, where students have been holding a sit-in every Tuesday afternoon since November. “We attract a diverse audience, even some professionals participate,” says organizer Lukas Janssens. A collaboration with an Israeli partner has already been canceled at the law faculty, mainly under pressure from doctoral students, but the students are asking for more transparency. “It is difficult to gain insight into ties with Israel.”

The fact that Ghent University ignored advice from its own human rights committee last week and will not terminate certain partnerships is disappointing to students. “We have to increase the pressure,” says Joelle. The pro-Palestinian activists at the other universities keep a close eye on the Ghent occupiers. The KdG students expect an answer from the college management to their grievances in mid-May. At the VUB a meeting is planned with the rector on Monday, and at KU Leuven this is on Tuesday. For now, no one wants to anticipate the facts: “What happens next will depend on the answers we get.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: university contract company supports Israeli army occupy university today


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