Protesters were taken away by bus

Occupation of city centre library's courtyard contained by police

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Photos: DUB

The peaceful atmosphere gave way to more and more tension as the evening went on at the city centre library's courtyard. The protesters built a barricade with materials found on the street, while a group of riot police hid in the bicycle cellar, which has access to the courtyard. Human chains were formed as an additional obstacle in front of the cellar and at the gate to Wittenvrouwenstraat. Meanwhile, around half past ten, more and more police cars entered Wittevrouwenstraat. The road was closed and one of the vans had dogs in it. 

The activists put several tents in the courtyard that afternoon, planning to spend the night there. The university's Executive Board told them they wouldn't tolerate that. Despite the warning, the atmosphere was still pleasant in the evening: flags were everywhere and students shouted slogans like "Free Palestine" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" at the top of their lungs. They also demanded the university take responsibility and sever ties with Israeli universities.

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The demonstrators handed out face masks so they wouldn't be recognisable. Some were so wrapped in scarves that they were completely unrecognisable. Around 11:00 pm, one of the organisers took the floor. They said they did not want the situation to escalate; instead, they wanted to engage in a dialogue with the university. They also talked to the police, who agreed that they would give them a sign before taking action. “Those who do not want to be arrested will be given the opportunity to pack their things and leave. It's okay if you leave. We think it's fantastic that you support us," they shouted.

The announcement that the police would storm in came shortly afterwards. However, it was delivered by UU President Anton Pijpers, who called on the demonstrators to leave the courtyard. Otherwise, the police would intervene. Many activists left at this point and lined up on both sides of Wittenvrouwenstraat, chanting their slogans there. A sizeable police force ensured they would stay there and not return to the courtyard. If anyone tried to do so, they were roughly grabbed and arrested.

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There were about fifty activists left in the courtyard. They sat in a circle, holding hands and expressing their determination to stay. Things got tense when a few activists tried to close the gates. The police took action immediately, using pepper spray and batons to prevent the gate from closing.

Things remained this way for a while, but then the riot police hiding in the bicycle cellar entered the courtyard. The activists were still sitting in a circle, while the police tried to control the demonstrators at the adjacent City Cinema.

Around 1:30 am, the riot police started clearing the barricade and two city buses pulled up. A big group of police officers entered the courtyard to take the remaining activists away and put them on the buses. Some of them resisted, but each person who did so was dragged to the bus by three men. Finally, there was only one activist left in the courtyard: a woman in a wheelchair, who could not be put on the bus. She was holding a sign saying that she was studying Criminology at a university that doesn't acknowledge war crimes.

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The buses drove away, cheered by the many activists still standing on the side of the road. They were taken to the detention centre in Houten, where they would spend the night and probably be released the next day. The activists have already announced that they will come back. Meanwhile, the gates were closed and the representatives of the police and the university shook hands between the bars. All people had been removed from the courtyard and only tents and signs were left behind.  

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Statement from the Executive Board
The Executive Board regrets that it had to ask the police to clear the courtyard. “This feels like a loss. We would have preferred that the demonstration - for which we provided space - had ended without the police getting involved," said Anton Pijpers in an email sent to all employees and students on Wednesday morning. According to the board, the demonstrators did not respond to a request for a meeting. Meanwhile, security concerns grew due to the increasing number of demonstrators in the library's courtyard. They did not adhere to the rules, one of which stipulates that demonstrators are not allowed to cover their faces. That is why the university, the police and the municipality opted for an evacuation. 

In the email, the university administrators explain once again that protesting is allowed provided that demonstrators comply with the rules. The Executive Board reiterated its decision to not take sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. "As a university, we share these concerns and feelings of sadness, bewilderment and helplessness about the violence resulting from this conflict. We sympathize with everyone affected by this conflict, from whatever side. We hope that this conflict ends as soon as possible," the board writes.

University Library open, courtyard closed
The library's courtyard will remain closed this Wednesday for clearing and repair work. The library is open as usual and can be reached through the main entrance, the Executive Board reports.