Protest update: activists blocked access to congress in Omnia

Activists stood with flags, signs and drums at the entrances.
Foto Roelof Kleis

In the afternoon of Wednesday 15 May, activists set up tents on the bridge between Forum and Orion. The activists are calling on WUR to disclose and break all links with Israeli institutes. In this article, we keep you up to date on the developments.

Update, 22 May 11:15

At around 9:30 this morning, a handful of demonstrators caused a disturbance in the entrance to the F&A Next conference in Omnia. The activists stood next to the main entrance, waving flags and cardboard signs and banging drums. A security officer guided conference attendees to a side entrance to the building, while activists stayed next to him, drumming and waving a Palestinian flag.

More and more demonstrators joined the protest in the course of the morning. Activists gathered at the other entrances to Omnia too, where they made a racket with their drums and megaphones, and prevented people from entering the building through these entrances too. The conference organizers decided to take the attendees to Orion instead.

‘I am not happy about this,’ says WUR spokesperson Jan Willem Bol. ‘We have rules for protests, one of which is that demonstrators are not allowed to disrupt events. By blocking access to the conference for attendees, the protestors are breaking these rules.’

The activists have left the area around Omnia and the conference with all the participants has now started in Omnia.

Update, 21 May 16:45: The Wageningen For Palestine activists have announced a new action in partnership with XR Wageningen, XR Justice Now!, Scientist Rebellion Wageningen and End Fossil Occupy WUR. They plan to disrupt the Food & Agrotech Summit on Wednesday morning. ‘Genocide and ecocide are closely related: the same organizations that are responsible for damage to the environment also have a history of abusing human rights,’ says Archie, a spokesperson for Wageningen For Palestine. ‘Many of these organizations are involved in the occupied territories and other illegal practices.’

The activists also say they did not have any further negotiations with the Executive Board on Tuesday. ‘Before the weekend, we were talking to them several times a day. Then they said we would talk further on Tuesday, but we haven’t heard anything yet from them today. This morning we had a kind of “lift chat” where they came and said hello.’

Updates 16 and 17 May

Update, 17 May 16:45: As of next academic year, two scholarships will be offered every year for students from conflict zones. The Executive Board made this gesture in the latest statement after talks with the activists. In addition, current projects in conflict zones will be reviewed if changing circumstances give cause to do so. Furthermore, an event or dialogue will be organized to look at how to behave with respect to one another in times of conflict. The activists are still considering their response.

Update 16 May 13:50 hrs: This morning, the Executive Board published a list of WUR’s collaborative links with Israeli universities and research institutes The demonstrators see the publication of the list of collaborative ventures as ‘a step in the right direction’ but they do not think WUR has met their first demand in full by doing this, says Noor, spokesperson for the activists. ‘This morning, four of us demonstrators negotiated with the rector, the dean and a spokesperson for the university. We discussed this as well then. We put a number of questions to the board and they had questions for us too. The board didn’t have answers to all our questions so we will be meeting again later. At any rate they are prepared to meet with us, which we are pleased about as that is not the case everywhere.’

One of the questions the demonstrators want an answer to is whether human rights violations take place in the projects in which WUR collaborates with Israel. ‘That is one of the requirements WUR makes in its own Principles of Collaboration. But the board was unable to confirm that no human rights violations take place at the science institutions with which WUR collaborates. The board was also unable to say whether the collaborative ventures take place in occupied territory. We hope to get answers to these questions in due course.’

Update 16 May 11:35: This morning, the Executive Board published a list of WUR’s collaborative links with Israeli universities and research institutes. In so doing, it is meeting one of the demands of the demonstrators. The board stresses the necessity of such partners in order to address massive global challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity.

WUR works with Israeli institutions in three ways: through student exchanges with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as a member of the Euroleague for Life Sciences Universities initiative, and through research projects in international consortia, funded by the EU. ‘All the collaborations are within WUR’s academic domain. None of then are related to warfare or developing military knowledge,’ states the board.

Hundreds of institutes are involved in the large research consortia, including the following Israeli ones: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Reichman University, University of Haifa, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Limited, Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute of Science en The Agricultural Research Organization of Israel.

Updates Wednesday May 15

At around 16:30 hours on Thursday 15 May, a few staff members braved the rain to stand with the activists who have set up tents on the bridge between Forum and Orion. Besides expressing their support for the demonstrators, the staff members do not want the freedom and safety of protesting students to come under threat. They therefore appealed to the Executive Board to choose a ‘path of de-escalation’ in its discussions with the campaigners, rather than to call the police. 

Update 21:04: Spokesperson Noor announced at around 9 pm that about 50 students were allowed to stay and that there had been talks between representatives of the demonstrators and the board (Carolien Kroeze and Rens Buchwaldt) and education director Arnold Bregt. Noor said the WUR had ordered Dixies (public toilets) for the night. ‘We talked with board members for an hour and a half this afternoon. It was a good discussion, heated but constructive. WUR has promised to document its collaborative links with Israeli parties. They are not sure yet whether they will publish the list in the near future. Talks will resume at 10 o’clock tomorrow on our demand for transparency and on our other demands. For example, we haven’t discussed scholarships for Palestinian students yet.’

The mood in the ‘tented camp’ is optimistic, says Noor. ‘But we are staying alert. Because of course we think it’s good that we can stay and that Dixies have been arranged, but as a Dutch politician once said, “Chattering won’t put a roof over anyone’s head.” We will go on fighting for an important cause. We don’t want to be over-optimistic after the talks and think: “Oh, everything will be alright now”. WUR still has to produce the goods. Seeing that Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences has broken its ties with Israel, and so have Spanish universities, it can be done in Wageningen too.’

A member of staff addressed the demonstrators. Photo Resource

Update 18:10 hours: After a speech and poem read by one of their number, several WUR members of staff handed out coupons for free coffee and watermelon-flavoured ice lollies. The water melon is a symbol of Palestine because its colours resemble those of the Palestinian flag. Bottles of water were passed around as well. 

One associate professor who would prefer to remain anonymous explained why she came to express her support for the demonstration. ‘The brother of a friend of mine was at the protest in Amsterdam and he was beaten by the police for no reason. I was really shocked by that, and we must prevent that from happening here.’ She joined the walkout last Monday too. 

‘I was a bit disappointed by the staff turnout, at least on our side of the bridge,’ said an anonymous full professor. ‘But it was raining cats and dogs.’ She understands the demonstrators’ demand that WUR cut its ties with Israel. ‘I do think our university could stop collaborating with Israel.”

Staff members have called on the Executive Board to hold talks with the demonstrators and to choose a ‘path of de-escalation’ rather than to mobilize the police.

Bridge between Orion and Forum around 17:00 hours. Photo Resource

[Original report at 15 May 13:05 hours]

Around lunchtime, there were about ten tents and some 40 people on the bridge. The activists are calling on WUR to publish and break all links with Israeli institutes, says Noor, one of the group’s spokespeople.

The activists also want special study scholarships to be set up for Palestinian students. ‘We want this because all Gaza’s universities have been destroywd in the war.’

Recent protests in other cities such as Amsterdam and Utrecht got out of hand, with the riot police being called in to clear buildings. That is why as a precaution the activists have designated certain people to act as contacts for the police and media, explains Noor. ‘I hope we can keep it peaceful, and that the Executive Board is willing to talk to us.’

The activists plan to stay put until their demands are met.

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