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Columbia-style Gaza student protest at Paris' Sciences Po

France: Columbia-style Gaza student protest esclates at 'elite' Sciences Po after university calls in riot police
4 min read
26 April, 2024
Students at the elite university have been protesting its alleged complicity in Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza by staging peace camps and blockades
Student protests are spreading worldwide in solidarity with Gaza [Credit: Molly-Mae Whitmey]

Students from France’s leading political sciences university, Sciences Po, are occupying a campus building in an ongoing blockade, in response to the recent crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests by the elite institution, the alma mater of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The student occupation of the main university building began on Thursday morning, after Sciences Po administration used the riot police – Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité [CRS] – to dislodge a Columbia University-style encampment the previous night, allowing police to enter its campus for the first time since the student protests of 1968.

“When we see what is happening in the United States, and now in Australia, we’re really hoping it will catch on here in France, the academic world has a role to play,” said 22-year-old Hicham, a master’s student in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po.

Students inside the university occupation told The New Arab that the administration have threatened to send in the police again, or to close the university for 10 days and delay exams until June, in the vein of what Columbia has done moving all classes online.

On Wednesday night, 50 police in riot gear stormed St Thomas campus after around 80 students created an encampment in solidarity with Gaza, the first for a European university, joining the movement led by American university students.

“The administration suddenly told students they were sending in the CRS”, a committee member told The New Arab.

"It was left to students to communicate what our rights were to each other in case of arrest," they added, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Students have accused Sciences Po of prioritising their reputation as an 'elite' university over the safety of students, despite having a duty of care, citing the “double standards and unfair treatment towards student activists for Palestinian rights”.

Students had spent the week conducting peaceful sit-ins in solidarity with Gaza but also to protest the administration’s lack of clarity, action and vague response to the demands.

The students want to have an open town hall meeting between the central administration and students, so that questions can be asked regarding the extent of Sciences Po ties to Israeli institutions that may expose it to accusations of complicity in the ongoing war in Gaza.

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Just an hour after Harvard students set up their own encampment earlier in the week, Sciences Po students erected tents, a food station, music and signs. Students between the two universities were FaceTiming each other.

To keep the camp safe, students from all nationalities and religions organised into medical and legal teams, hosting workshops on understanding the potential legal and administrative consequences of such an action.

However, the anti-war camp was quickly dismantled by force after the university requested the presence of the CRS following pressure from the French government. The source from Sciences Po's pro-Palestinian student organisation confirmed to The New Arab the central administration admitted to government pressure.

University officials said in a statement that it was "decided that the police would evacuate the site" after the anti-war camp was accused of causing "tensions".

According to members of the Sciences Po Palestine Committee, the administration also told students that they “couldn’t guarantee” what the CRS would do to students once they entered the university campus.

The New Arab approached Science Po for comment and did not receive a response in time for publication.

According to regulations, the police are only allowed to enter university campus if the administration specifically requests their presence. Once the police enter campus, it is up to the discretion of the police to handle the situation.

Footage of students being dragged from the student occupation by CRS officers and thrown onto the street has been circulating on social media, sparking outrage at the wider response of universities to pro-Palestine protests as waves of anger have spread across campuses.

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In the US, protests had erupted at Columbia University last week as a Vietnam war-style encampment inside the main building. On Friday, more than 100 people were arrested at Columbia.

NYU and Yale have also seen arrests, while hundreds of students also staged an occupation at the University of Southern California.