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The Maastricht Diplomat

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‘Rafah’s Garden’: The Maastricht Encampment

UM students enter hunger strike until demands are met 

by Claire Anderson and Jan Pöhler

Six protestors at Maastricht University (UM) will be entering a hunger strike on Thursday May 16, until their demands are met by the university. Over the weekend, pro-Palestine activists set up Rafah’s garden, an encampment at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) between the staff parking lot and a faculty’s building. The students call on the Executive Board to cut ties with Israeli institutions complicit with the genocide in Gaza along with other demands.

Campus Safety

When students arrived at the faculty on Tuesday all entrances were guarded by security, asking those wanting to enter for their university ID card. These measures had been implemented by the Executive Board after a student encampment had been organized on university grounds earlier on Monday

A spokesperson for the encampment, known as Franny, stated the reason for taking the FASoS garden, now renamed ‘Rafah’s garden’, saying: “We took the space and occupied it. We are not here to have peaceful dialogues with anybody. We are here and we will not leave. ”

Pro-Palestine protests have increased across the Netherlands, coming after police violently broke up protests at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), arresting more than a hundred people according to Politico EU. Universities in Eindhoven, Groningen, Nijmegen, Amsterdam, and Maastricht have seen the establishment of solidarity encampments, more frequently organized protests, sit-ins, and walk-outs.

Students across the Netherlands are calling for the divestment and disclosure of funds to Israeli partnership universities as well as accountability of higher education institutions regarding the active role they retain in the continuation of the Israel-Hamas war. The Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement has so far seen 76 universities in Spain relinquish ties with complicit Israeli universities.

Among the activists at the solidarity encampment in FASoS are first aid and awareness personnel as well as night shift security ‘guards’. All, who are clearly identifiable with neon safety vests work to ensure the safety of the encampment,taking into consideration fire escape routes and emergency planning. Students emphasize keeping the encampment clean and free of litter, others taking the initiative to organize (and keep organized) the food and supply stations.

As a brief reminder since October 7, almost 35,000 Palestinian and 1,400 Israeli casualties have been reported according to Reuters. 128 Israeli hostages remain unaccounted for. 1.7 million Palestianians, representing three quarters of the territory's population, have been displaced as a result of the mass destruction due to Israel’s widespread bombardment of the strip.

University Council Meeting & Hunger Strike Announcement

A meeting between members of the University Council and solidarity protesters ensued Wednesday morning at 10:40 am. A member of the University Council stated they were there “to learn from you [members of the student encampment].”

During the meeting, students reiterated the reasons for establishing an encampment as well as their demands. After giving an introduction, topics that were addressed included the attacks of Palestinian institutions, role of Israeli academic institutions, the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, the specifics of UM ties, and finally the acknowledgment/use of the term “genocide.”

The University Council was further informed of the escalation measure being taken by some students. Beginning Thursday, May 16, six students will be partaking in a hunger strike as means of putting time restraints on the Executive Board and their deliberations. In this case, the students will persist with the fast until all of the demands are accepted, met, and legally binded. A spokesperson for the student encampment told the Maastricht Diplomat (MD) that an email was sent yesterday to the Executive Board, University Council, the deans of all faculties, and professors informing them of the hunger strike. A response has not been received. 

The decision, according to the spokesperson, comes after seven months of organized events and protests by the student body and Free Palestine Maastricht (FPM), and subsequent silence on behalf of the university. The participants in the hunger strike will have medics present and advising them throughout the process.

Demands from the encampment

The demands central to the establishing of the encampment and reason for protest, are as follows:

“The encampment will remain steadfast until all of the following demands are met.

  • Maastricht University (UM) must immediately adhere to the academic boycott campaign of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) ending all partnerships (ie. research projects, exchange ties) with Israeli academic institutions, and must immediately cut financial ties with the following institutions directly complicit in the genocide of Palestinians and disclose any further ties which we are not yet aware of.

  • Hebrew University: for its involvement in developing technology crucial to the surveillance, murdering and displacement of Palestinians.

  • Horizon Europe program in direct partnership with Technion Israel Institute of Technology which focuses on developing military technology both for Israel and for Fortress Europe used to surveil and kill people trying to reach Europe. This project has a funding of 95.5 billion euros.

  • Internships in the Valley programs, in partnership with IFF and Applied Materials, both complicit in Israeli apartheid.

  • Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) in direct partnership with Adecco - a business company operating in Israel.

  • UM must grant amnesty to all of the people involved in this action. There must be no disciplinary action taken or legal charge against those making use of their right to protest and dissent.”

For more information, go to @maastricht.encampment on Instagram.

Press Coverage

The Dutch journalist association NVJ (Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten) spoke out against the exclusion of media personnel from the university campus on Monday. 

Members of a local media outlet had been seen by students entering university buildings through a backdoor equipped with cameras before the incident, while other reporters waited outside. Pictures and videos of the incident were shared online and with other media outlets.

During the setup of the encampment, people not affiliated with the university had repeatedly filmed faces of individual protesters despite repeated calls from both students and university staff not to. In one video, a cameraperson can be heard claiming that they had permission, as they were asked to leave. 

Secretary of the NVJ, Thomas Bruning commented that, while it is their fundamental right to protest, other fundamental rights allow for free press coverage that would be needed for a free society. 

The university grounds are not public space, and entrances at the FASoS usually require a key card to open. In a statement on Monday night, the university informed students that all visitors would have to show their university key card, identifying them as members of the university in a statement. Since then security personnel have been stationed at the entrances to the faculty. 

On Wednesday morning two reporters waited in front of the building equipped with a camera and microphone as a banner was unleashed from a balcony opposite the faculty building. 

The Maastricht Diplomat is a student owned and operated media outlet, separate from Maastricht University.

Anti-Zionism v. Anti-Semitism: On Statements Made by The Observant & More

A recent addition to the list of demands includes adopting the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti Semitism (JD) as a formally recognized definition of anti semitism. This opposes the working definition of antisemitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition. 

This addition aims to “dethrone” the IHRA definition as, according to a spokesperson, it  “is conflated with Israel.” 

In addressing the role Dutch news outlets and the Observant have played in disproportionately covering the role of the solidarity encampment, Franny stated: 

“The international context of media coverage of Israel-Palestine is scandalous in how it has been portrayed as a complicated conflict. From a focus on Israeli hostages to degrading students knowledge on the issue, what matters now is that there is a genocide going on. The European Union (EU) is actively benefiting from Israel and the idea that it is the only ‘true democracy’ in the Middle East. In 20 years, the media will be on our side”

In a recent article published by the Observant and sent out to all students as a part of UM News, the concern by Jewish UM students for their safety and role in discussing Palestine was addressed. The slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was covered within the article as a hurtful phrase that “calls for the destruction of Israel” according to one Jewish student. Students within the camp acknowledge the contested duality existing within the slogan but ensure it is used as a call for a united Palestinian state, not for the re-dislocation of Jewish peoples or any extreme action against them.

Franny, open about her Jewish identity and involvement with Erev Rav Maastricht, an anti-zionist Jewish student association, elaborates on this, saying:

“Not confusing culture and religion with a state, political ideology is crucial to fully understanding what’s happening. The Jewish community should know enough from experience to be aligned with Palestine. Being in a continual state of frozen victimization, in which you make the genocide happening about your physical and emotional safety, is problematic. Do not use our trauma to wash your hands of genocide.”

As a part of encampment rules, any form of discrimination including sexism, racism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, queerphobia, ableism, and ageism are not tolerated.

Statement & Coverage by UM

Since the walk-outs and protests began on Monday, the executive board has released numerous statements and updates at the end of each day. These statements offer the entire student body means to remain informed on the university's approach to the state of protests and encampment.

The reiteration of the ‘allowance’ on the universities behalf to let “observers” stay overnight is included in the statements. In an initial statement made, the university explicitly and willingly expressed they respect the right to peace protest and do not want police involvement/presence on campus. The reference of the solidarity encampment as a “peace camp” and “tent-camp” are received by the students as a condescending attempt to, what they dub “cute-ify” the situation. Patronizing comments are not new to the students, some university staff had positioned themselves outside of their dutiful bounds, stating their “disappointment” with the actions of the students. 

On the first official day of the encampment, Monday May 13, the president of Maastricht University, Rianne Letschert, made an evening appearance to bear witness to the encampment and engage in conversation with the students. In the midst of the conversation, a comment was made by Letschert about how she is affected by the creation of an encampment, stating, “This is also affecting me, I had to cancel my trip to Poland.”

This is a continual and developing story.


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