Witnessing the Student Intifada – On Palestine, Solidarity and Cultural Boycotts

This article is published on metropolis m. Find the originial article here: https://metropolism.com/nl/feature/witnessing-the-student-intifada-on-palestine-solidarity-and-cultural-boycotts/

Alina Lupu is heavily involved in the Gaza protests in several cities across the Netherlands. In The Hague, she participates as a member of the KABK student union, while in Amsterdam, she actively takes part in the protests. She writes a report from within, describing the ‘liberated zones’ and illustrating how they function as educational spaces where one can freely discuss the Israeli genocide in Gaza. An art student at KABK herself, Lupu notes that most Dutch art academies have remained silent. Isn’t it time for art schools to become more directly involved in this liberation movement, and if so, how?

Education on the barricades

From mid to late April, Columbia University in New York City was occupied by students, staff, and teachers in support of Palestine.[1]

This occupation followed months of peaceful protests organized by people from all walks of life outside of campus. The academic community was now energized by outrage over the accelerating genocide of Palestinians by Israeli armed forces. Columbia University [2] wasn’t the only institution that was declared a “Liberated Zone” by students, teachers, and staff. The students’ intifada spread globally, university by university, academy by academy. At the time of writing there were 188 encampments by students in support of Gaza [3] – perhaps the actual number is even larger, as the map clearly has not been updated for some time.

In The Netherlands the map is particularly outdated, as student initiatives have spread across the entire country, with occupations lasting from 15 hours to 8 days in various cities including Eindhoven [4], Maastricht [5], Nijmegen [6], Utrecht [7], Groningen [8], Leiden [9], The Hague [10], Wageningen [11] and last but not least, Amsterdam [12].

Tactics also varied from pitching tents on the campus green, building barricades, organizing teach-ins and lectures, chanting – with chants that crossed the Atlantic [13] -, pushing demands through to management either online or in person, negotiating, resisting, standing up to riot cops, going on hunger strikes, organizing communal meals, and raising donations and support through crowdfunding to keep the occupations going. The tactics were employed to support a basic list of demands adapted to each location, but fundamentally centered on three core principles fueled by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI for short) [14], principles that could be heard chanted throughout all encampment: “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop we will not rest!” [15] A third demand was added later: Boycott. Expanded, these principles stood for the following:

Disclose: Comply with the Freedom of Information Act and disclose ties with Israeli institutions and companies, including educational institutions, as well as companies that profit from genocide, apartheid, and the exploitation of Palestinian people and their land.

Divest: Cease all contracts with and divest from Israeli companies and international companies/funds, that profit from genocide, apartheid, and the exploitation of Palestinian people and their land.

Boycott: Cease all academic collaborations with Israeli institutions that participate in the genocide, apartheid, and exploitation of Palestinian people and their land.

By the time these student’s encampments went up, the PACBI guidelines had turned 20 years old, crafted 56 years into the system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing that Israel had imposed on the Palestinians. The principles were older than many of the students who took part in the encampments, teaching each other and the institutions what they have learned in liberation.

Each person setting up the encampment could bring a book with them and deposit it on a little blanket, next to a dedicated tent

One of the core features of each encampment has been learning. To take the example of the first and second Amsterdam Encampment, without knowing how long each of these structures would stand, a decision was taken to equip each with a library. This is how the “Refaat Alareer Library for Liberated Learning for a Liberated Palestine” was born on the UvA campus at the Roeterseiland in Amsterdam, and later re-appeared at the Oudemanhuispoort. The principle was simple. Each person setting up the encampment could bring a book with them and deposit it on a little blanket, next to a dedicated tent. The library grew from around 30 titles at 12:00 PM, Monday, May 6th, to double that by 10 PM, along with snacks and water. The books travelled all across the encampment, filling moments of downtime.

Everyone present could get education in real-time, just like students in Gaza, where all universities had been turned to dust, taking their exams in tents. This shared symbolic physical space became a powerful expression of solidarity.

At 4 AM, any books that had not been saved in the Amsterdam encampment at Roeterseiland were at risk of being trashed by riot cops and a bulldozer – another grim way of sharing physical conditions.

Anticipating the violent crackdown, I picked from the pile a copy of Maya Wind’s book Towers of Ivory and Steel – How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom, and stashed it in my backpack before I got arrested. I’d take it with me to Oudemanhuispoort, and had it autographed by the author in Utrecht, on May 14th. The inscription read “For Alina, Until liberation, Maya.”

I’d carry it with me as I’d climb on the barricades of the Roeterseiland and Oudemanhuispoort encampments, and had it with me when I saw the mayor of Amsterdam peer through the barricades, and when I watched a bulldozer break through into the encampments, followed by a flood of riot cops indiscriminately beating down on students and staff.

The barricades pushed the management of UvA to negotiate and take the students and teachers seriously for the first time after months of delay. They complied with one of the demands “Disclose”, but failed short to the other two – “Divest” and “Boycott” – and excersised their preference to unleash riot cops on their community instead.

A barricade, as defined by Eric Hazan in A History of the Barricade might be seen as “a heap of disparate objects, combined in a moment. Its particular virtue is to proliferate and form a network that crosses the space of the city”.

A barricade, as defined by Eric Hazan in “A History of the Barricade” [16], might be seen as ‘a heap of disparate objects, combined in a moment. Its particular virtue is to proliferate and form a network that crosses the space of the city’.

The Amsterdam barricades, which delayed but didn’t stop the armed forces from barging into the protester’s space, when negotiations failed, would act like such a network. They were localised, sustainable, built from furniture of the University of Amsterdam, but also from construction material from campus and pieces of leftover trash – gathered person by person from all over the city, depending on where and when trash was picked up. Bricks lifted from campus fortified them. They would be decorated with bikes, umbrellas, slogans on pieces of paper, and bouquets of flowers. By the end of each encampment, they’d be decorated with student bodies standing in a state of shock but also defiant, in front of an incoming bulldozer.

In one instance, a person at Oudemanhuispoort jumped from the barricade onto the bulldozer, staring the bulldozer operator straight in the face through the dividing glass, before they were yanked down by undercover police amidst a chorus of cheering and boo’ing from the surrounding crowd.

It reminded me of Ahmed Ögüt’s barricade which he constructed in 2015 from works from the Van Abbemuseum’s collection. It was inspired by the revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin who suggested placing paintings from the National Museum’s collection in front of the barricades, speculating that Prussian soldiers wouldn’t dare destroy the works and therefore pass the barricade. Ögüt’s barricade, though in theory available for use by activists during social uprisings, never materialised during the Student Intifada, even though a version of it is now part of the collection at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.[17] It is presented alongside the artist’s demand that the museum must allow it to be used in the streets including works from the collection. One could wonder also if the mayor of Amsterdam and the riot cops would care about a barricade fortified with artworks, since they had no issue barging over the human bodies that were fortifying barricades.

Standing against genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing proved to be a messy endeavor. While colonial violence destroyed Palestinian universities, a similar brand of violence dismantledthe student barricades and disrupted the liberated learning spaces and divestment negotiations. Only the culprits change, not the methods, or the goal.

Would a barricade that includes art, as suggested by the artist Ahmet Ögüt in reference to Bakunin’s original plan, stop the mayor and police from forced intervention?

The right woman at the right place, at the right time

A week after the student encampments started in the Netherlands, Maya Wind, an Israeli-born, Canadian-based Jewish organiser and researcher, started her book tour. The book in question, Towers of Ivory and Steel (the one that I’d stashed in my backpack), describes how Israeli Universities, long seen by the West as places where liberalism and criticality thrive, are in fact state apparatuses that work hand in hand with the Israeli defense industry and with structures that churn out Israeli state propaganda to deny Palestinian freedom.

As far as the arts are concerned, the issue of soft power and the reputation of the Israeli state built on academic exchanges of students comes into play, an issue further amplified by the paradox that the artistic field operates on – being both allowed to tackle every topic under the sun and retreating into neutrality and a nonpolitical stance when push comes to shove. Art academies, however, were not the focus of Wind’s book.

At its core, Wind’s work delves into the reproduction of settler societies and global systems of militarism and policing. Her PhD was granted by New York University and she also took courses at Columbia University. In addition to her academic pursuits, Wind is a conscientious objector, having refused to join the Israeli Defense Forces on moral principles. She served for 4 months in detention. Her book has been passed around by organisers for Palestine ever since the beginning of 2024, when it was launched by Verso. Meeting the author in person during her tour of universities added another level of understanding to her message.

Almost in anticipation of that on May 13th, during the University of Amsterdam walk-out and speeches, after the dismantling of the encampments, Wind’s book served as a painted shield in the Book Block Brigade [18], an initiative by Selçuk Balamir [19], inspired by the book block of the Italian student movements from 2010 [20], aimed at the time against austerity in education, and now against police violence and made in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The audience being welcomed at the Dominicus church in Amsterdam

Wind’s tour went from Radboud University in Nijmegen where she met with the students and staff in the still-standing encampment, to Utrecht University, where some representatives of the management were present during the lecture – not the person that had called the police twice, unfortunately, to Leiden University, and the Vrije Universiteit and University of Amsterdam, where the lecture took place in a packed Dominicuskerk, to Erasmus University Rotterdam.

I caught up with her at Utrecht University where she shared the stage with Itaï van de Wal, Dr. Diana Vela-Almeida, and Dr. Sai Englert, in a discussion moderated by Layal Ftouni. And again later, at the UvA and VU session that took place in a debate in Dominicuskerk chaired by Prof. Susan Legêne, in the company of Omar Barghouti, Ph.D. candidate at the UvA and co-founder of PACBI and Prof. Sarah Bracke. [21]

Maya Wind’s book proves that the aim of the Israeli Universities has never been autonomous; their relation with the defense forces has always been to offer degrees to soldiers and collaborate with the military on weapons and technological infrastructure

Maya Wind talking at at Utrecht University
Detail, visit Maya Wind at Utrecht University

At the Dominicuskerk, a former Roman-Catholic, and now Dominican church setting,the debate started with the questions: how many students of humanities were present, or students form sciences and science? And how many of them were from VU and how many from UvA and AUC? Funnily enough the question ‘How many artists?’ never entered the equation. I kept my hand down. I listened.

The lecture at Dominicuskerk took place a day after the commemoration of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 war. The Nakba was however acknowledged as continuous, stretching from 1948 into its latest iteration that saw to date 40,000 Palestinians, 15,000 of which children, killed by the Israeli defense forces. She tells that at the time of submitting her book to print, all of them were still alive. At that time all classrooms, assembly halls, and graduation spaces still remained standing, alongside archives, and the core of student academic and faculty life in Gaza. What we were now witnessing, therefore, was not just a genocide, but a also scholasticide.

While the focus often falls ons how the military and police forces uphold settler colonialism, there is, according to Wind, another institution that is a central pillar of Israeli rule: the University. According to her research, Israeli Universities are complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights, a conclusion she reached after digging through state and military archives, academic collections, unpublished theses, observing classes, and speaking to both Jewish and Palestinian faculty.

In the process of ‘Judiazation’ [22], Israel aimed to transform the physical and demographic landscape of Jerusalem to enhance its Jewish character at the expense of its Muslim and Christian ones. This process focused on shrinking lands and interrupting the continuity of Palestinian settlements as well as land transfer to Jewish Israelis. In all this, Israeli Universities have played a central role.

The institutions founded for the goal of state-building of what would later be defined as Israel were: Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, laying material claim to Jerusalem since 1918, University of Haifa in Galilee, Ben-Gurion University in the Naqab, Ariel University in Occupied West Bank and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Even before the state of Israel was founded, some of these Universities laid claim to the land and also recruited for the Haganah (“The Defense”), the main Zionist paramilitary organisation that became the core of the Israel Defense Forces after the Declaration of Independence in 1948, and the Palestinian Nakba.

The aim of the Universities has never been autonomous; their relation with the defense forces has always been to offer degrees to soldiers and collaborate with the military on weapons and technological infrastructure. Eventually, they also helped Israel manufacture its own weapons. The Haganah science core was eventually integrated into the Ministry of Defense of Israel and formed what is now known as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., an Israeli defense technology company, as well as Elbit Systems Ltd., an Israel-based international military technology company and defense contractor. Elbit’s presence seeps into Dutch everyday life, tied up with the local Dutch police through a Cyber Intelligence service that it provides.[23] Additionally, the Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands orders ‘smart vests’ from Elbit, as well as rocket systems, tactical computers, and armoured vehicles and maintains the F-16 and F35 fighter jets.[24]

These weapons and systems of surveillance are presented as “combat-proven”. What this means, in short, is “combat-proven on Palestinians”. There’s a direct link between the violence inflicted on Palestinians and the violence deployed on students standing up for Palestine.

On the one hand, Israeli Universities developed weapons and knowledge for the military. On the other hand, they have consistently contributed to the obstruction of Palestinian mobilisation for liberation by censoring archives and suppressing dissenting voices. Even when Palestinians enrolled in Israeli Universities they were subjected to surveillance and structural bureaucratic violence. To date 411 Palestinian student groups and associations have been declared unlawful by the Israeli state, their members abducted, detained under administrative detention, and subjected to torture.

This happened even before the genocide in Gaza. Now, on top of this, 90,000 students have no university to attend their studies. Shockingly, not a single Israeli University has called for the cessation of the destruction of Palestinian institutions of education. The bridge to the Netherlands is easily made by the continued relationship of Dutch Universities with Israeli Universities in the face of the evidence of genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

It is because of this that students and teachers have taken a stand. They want to hold their universities accountable for the human rights values they claim to uphold and transform the education for the sake of liberation. They believe there is no true academic freedom until it applies to everyone.

During last week’s debate, Omar Barghouti was quick to underline a core principle in all this, which is an operating principle of BDS (Boycott, Sanction and Divest): “We target complicity, not identity. Because there’s nothing Jewish about settler colonialism, apartheid, genocide.” Prof. Dr. Sarah Bracke made an important point regarding the valorization of activism within academia. In the neoliberal University, she noted, significant emphasis is being put on knowledge utilisation. This is fine when it comes to cancer research or epidemiology, but in humanities knowledge utilization leads to what we can do about international law, genocide studies, processes of dehumanization, racialization, violence, conflicts, and so on. The aim is to bring that knowledge out of the ivory tower and into practice. Politics tends to dismiss this as an attack on academic freedom, it is however merely putting knowledge into practice.

Palestine will set us free.

Oudemanhuispoort, Amsterdam

What is the contribution of the arts in The Netherlands to all this?

On May 10th, in between encampments, violence, hurt, symbolic setbacks, and determination, the oganisation Dutch Scholars for Palestine announced that the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague cut ties with an Israeli institution.[25]

“On Friday the 10th of May, the Board of Directors of the KABK – Koninklijke Nederlandse Kunstacademie – announced that it will cut ties with Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. KABK is the first educational institution in the Netherlands to participate in the academic boycott of Israel. DSP welcomes this decision and calls on every other educational institution in the Netherlands to follow suit.”

It was the first news of such a boycott in The Netherlands and by virtue of this, it brought a surge of hope to a newly born movement for the liberation of Palestine. This development didn’t come overnight. As a member of the KABK Student Union that had been in discussions with the KABK management for six months to achieve this development, I experienced firsthand the long trajectory of meetings, assembly, frustration, and delays, as well as growth and understanding, This was a long process of gaining knowledge about Israeli complicity in genocide, then learning how to put that knowledge into practice, culminating in the breaking of ties.[26]

In the case of the KABK, the tipping point was Bezalel’s support for the Israeli war effort since October 2023, when it started hosting a sewing center that helped patch uniforms for the Israeli Defense Forces.[27] However, one initiative was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to revealing the militarization of higher education in Israel. Bezalel didn’t just host students and staff patching IDF uniforms, while the army was under investigation for genocide, it is also hosted a faculty of IDF soldiers, who had shut down, stalked, and expelled Palestinian voices on their campus.[28]


What was surprising was how long it took for this reality to resonate with the KABK management. The same delay occurred to various responses at the Hogeschool Rotterdam and the Design Academy Eindhoven [29], and with discussions underway at Gerrit Rietveld Academie [30], ArtEZ [31], and HKU [32].

One might wonder why art academies pursued for petitions and discussions, while Universities opted for barricades, encampments and pop-up libraries. It is important to realise, however, that one approach does not exclude another. Art academies are also still developing their tactics, time will tell how they choose to advance their commitment to liberation. Meanwhile students and teachers from art academies have gradually joined the ongoing University encampments, climbing the barricades, and donating books to libraries. They have held shield-shaped books, given speeches, and donated money, time and supplies. They have put their bodies on the line in front of bulldozers and riot cops, licked their wounds, regrouped, rested – even as Palestine does not get to rest. They’ve never been more determined.

As per Diane Di Prima’s “REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #8”:
‘NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us
shoving at the thing from all sides
to bring it down’ [33]


All images by Alina Lupu

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_Columbia_University_pro-Palestinian_campus_occupation
2 ​​“Our Campus. Our Crisis.” Inside the encampments and crackdowns that shook American politics. A report by the staff of the Columbia Daily Spectator. Edited by Columbia Daily Spectator Written and reported by Isabella Ramírez, Amira McKee, Rebecca Massel, Emily Forgash, Noah Bernstein, Sabrina Ticer-Wurr, Apurva Chakravarthy, Esha Karam, Shea Vance, Sarah Huddleston, and Maya Stahl, May 4th, 2024, Intelligencer, New York Magazine:
3 Students 4 Gaza, A Global Map of Encampments and Demands, https://students4gaza.directory/
4 https://www.instagram.com/eindhoven.encampment/
5 https://www.instagram.com/maastricht.encampment/
6 https://www.instagram.com/nijmegenencampment/
7 https://www.instagram.com/encampment.uu/
8 https://www.instagram.com/encampment.rug/
9 https://www.instagram.com/leiden.encampment/
10 https://www.instagram.com/encampment.leidenthehague/
11 ​​https://www.instagram.com/wageningenencampment/
12 https://www.instagram.com/amsterdam.encampment/
13 Palestinian Youth Movement. @palyouthmvmt “It’s past midnight, and turnout of students and faculty has filled the entire plaza of Columbia University. An end to US complicity in the genocide of Gaza remains their focus, they insist, despite media attempts to divert attention to issues like student safety or free speech.” In the video, the chant “Oink oink piggy piggy! We are going to make your life shitty!” https://twitter.com/palyouthmvmt/status/1783007862765109677
14 https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi
15 https://www.npr.org/2024/04/30/1248088063/divest-divestment-university-college-protesters-campus-israel-gaza-invasion#:~:text=It’s%20become%20a%20common%20mantra,the%20country’s%20invasion%20of%20Gaza.
16 Eric Hazan, “A History of the Barricade”, 2023, Verso books, first published 2013, https://www.versobooks.com/products/134-a-history-of-the-barricade
17 https://www.stedelijk.nl/nl/collectie/105820-ahmet-ogut-bakunin’s-barricade
18 https://www.instagram.com/bookblocbrigade/
19 https://www.instagram.com/selj/
20 Battle of the Books, Blog of Public Secrets, by Marc James Léger, https://legermj.typepad.com/blog/2010/12/the-collective-intelligence-of-the-movement-of-the-movements-has-created-a-new-form-the-book-bloc-on-november-24-2010-it.html
21 https://aihr.uva.nl/content/events/2024/05/towers.html?origin=WwlfvMXFR%2F25v%2BlML%2FjsPA
22 https://alqudsjerusalem.com/geography/what-does-judaization-mean-and-how-is-it-implemented/
23 https://www.joint-forces.com/defence-equipment-news/24685-dutch-police-buy-elbit-cyber-intelligence-system
24 https://stopwapenhandel.org/israeli-arms-exports-imports-and-military-cooperation-with-the-netherlands/
25 https://www.instagram.com/p/C6zT2f0I9iL/?img_index=1
26 KABK break ties with Bezalel Academy of the Arts and Design, Jerusalem – discussion with management KABK
27 KABK break ties with Bezalel Academy of the Arts and Design, Jerusalem – petition initiated by the KABK Student Union, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdEqxuNsoMRsxQWeZI-A6GwihKKu_H1jyK03W3RZQE5CyNdGw/viewform
28 https://www.instagram.com/arabstudentsofbezalelacademy/
29 https://eindhovennews.com/news/arts-culture/2024/05/design-academy-freezes-ties-with-israeli-counterparts/
30 https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSetM9uBsTREHhlC-uZqtrZzycjGk-6Tt2GQvLZdIRHqM7Wt5g/viewform
31 https://www.instagram.com/olivebr4nch4rtez/
32 https://actie.degoedezaak.org/petitions/hku-has-to-disclose-and-divest-all-ties-to-institutes-brands-that-violate-human-rights
33 REVOLUTIONARY LETER #8, Diane Di Prima, https://dionne.space/blog/dianediprima

Alina Lupu

was born and raised in Romania and works as a writer and post-conceptual artist in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is a student of the Master Program Photography and Society at the Royal Academy of the Arts (KABK), the Hague, and a graduate of the Fine Arts Department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam. In her works, she looks at the role of the image and performative actions when it comes to standing in solidarity through protest against capitalist hegemony and precarity.