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Strengthen from academics and no arrests as Spanish scholars rally for Gaza | Information


Madrid, Spain – Huge Palestinian flags are hanging on campuses across Spain as thousands of students protest against Israel’s war in Gaza.

Some classes have stopped this week as students demonstrate in Barcelona, Valencia, the Basque Country and Madrid.

Across Europe, similar sit-ins have taken place at universities in the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark and Germany, as young people join their United States peers who are facing a violent police response.

In Amsterdam, police arrested about 125 activists as they broke up a pro-Palestinian camp at the University of Amsterdam on Tuesday. Dutch police said their action was necessary to “restore order” after protests turned violent. There were no reports of injuries. Footage aired by national broadcaster NOS showed a mechanical digger smashing down barricades and tents.

But in Spain, a country that historically supports the Palestinian cause, police have so far not been involved in trying to break up the protests.

“We have to show we care. We have to take a stand against what is happening in Gaza and the way Israel is acting,”  Maria Angeles Lopez, 21, a psychology student, told Al Jazeera outside the University of Barcelona.

“If students here and elsewhere show we don’t agree with what is happening, then perhaps it will make people in power think again.”

In many Spanish universities that have witnessed protests, more than 2,000 lecturers have come out in support of the rallies.

Scholars at the University of Malaga are also expected to start demonstrating on Wednesday.

Students of the Complutense University of Madrid set up a banner at a pro-Palestinian encampment [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

The protests began last week at the University of Valencia, where scores of students camped outside the faculty of philosophy to demand an end to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, which has to date killed almost 35,000 Palestinians.

Alba Ayoub, 20, a law student at the University of Valencia, said students did not defend Hamas’s attack on southern Israel on October 7. But she said she understood it as a form of resistance.

Hamas, the group that governs Gaza, launched an unprecedented incursion on October 7, during which 1,139 people were killed and hundreds were taken captive; the attacks marked a sharp escalation of the historic Israel-Palestine conflict and set off Israel’s latest and deadliest war on Gaza.

“We are protesting as a form of solidarity with other students in America and elsewhere in the world,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.

“We want Spain to end relations with Israel. Spain continues buying and selling arms with Israel. We also want Spain to take Israel to the International Court of Justice with South Africa,” she added, referring to global attempts to bring legal cases.

The University of Valencia said it will not take any position over the protests.

“The UV has expressed its position in relation to Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip, calling for respect for human rights and a permanent solution to the situation in Palestine,” it said in a post on X, the social media.

Coral Latorre, secretary-general of the student union, said the protesters wanted to “end the genocide in Gaza”.

“The protests here in Spain are in support for others in the United States and France and elsewhere. We want to support our brothers and sisters in Palestine to end the genocide they are suffering,” she told Al Jazeera.

“We want our government and the universities to break off all relations with Israel until we achieve our aims.”

Students of the Complutense University of Madrid make banners after setting up a pro-Palestinian encampment amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Madrid, Spain, May 7, 2024. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura
Thousands of students have joined campus protests in solidarity with Gaza and their peers at universities across the world [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

The Spanish Inter-University Network of Solidarity with Palestine said in a statement that it wants the university community to reject the argument that Hamas’s assault, “which we unequivocally condemn”, can justify the Israeli blockade of the Strip, indiscriminate attacks and ongoing invasion.

It said Israeli settlers are going “unpunished” as they “terrorise” the population of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – “actions that international law considers to be flagrant war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

The embassy of Israel in Spain has not commented on the student action so far.

Jordi Mir Garcia, a historian at the Autonomous University of Barcelona who specialises in Spanish student protests, said the present demonstrations were a reaction to violent university clashes in the United States.

“Spain’s government has a political posture which is unusual in that it advocates recognising the Palestinian state. If it was pro-Israel, these protests might have happened earlier in Spain,” he told Al Jazeera.

“They are in reaction to the protests in Columbia and Los Angeles in the United States.”

Mir said despite the long dictatorship of General Francisco Franco between 1939 and 1975, student movements had played a key role in social change.

“In 1966, an independent student movement arose which played an important role in the movement to democracy towards the end of the dictatorship,” he said.

“They were also involved in the 15-M movement, which served to change the political party system and the Catalan independence movement.”

The so-called 15-M movement, named after March 15, 2011 when it started, began against austerity policies and grew into the far-left party Podemos which ended the two-party system that had dominated Spanish politics.

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