One day after parts of Berlin’s Humboldt University were occupied by pro-Palestinian activists, the university ordered the evacuation – under pressure from the Senate. The instruction came from the very top, said the president, Julia von Blumenthal.

The police initially escorted people out who wanted to leave the building voluntarily. Locked and partly barricaded doors were forcibly opened by the police, said police spokeswoman Beate Ostertag in the evening. She couldn’t say how many people were still in the building.

The demonstrators occupied the university premises on Wednesday in protest against Israel and in support of the Palestinians. The occupiers, a group called Student Coalition Berlin, accused Israel of “genocide” and “ongoing mass murders” in a statement. They said they were “unconditional solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Among other things, they are demanding that Berlin universities campaign for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and put pressure on the German government. The government should impose an arms embargo on Israel and end all military, financial and diplomatic aid to Israel.

University President von Blumenthal expresses regret

In view of the evacuation, President von Blumenthal expressed her regret that no agreement had been reached. “I am not sure whether it would have been possible, but I had the impression that we had taken a good step with this dialogue,” she said after talks with the pro-Palestinian activists who had occupied the building. “Then the order came from the very top to end the occupation. I followed this order,” she said. By this she meant the Governing Mayor Kai Wegner (CDU), as she stated when asked.

Blumenthal said of the conversations with the activists that it was possible, with a moderation in mutual respect, “to talk about things where we might even be able to come closer together and also to talk about what separates us.” It was also possible to listen to the suffering of the Palestinian students. Of course, she always had the suffering of Jewish students in mind.

Heated atmosphere and chants

In the evening, the mood at the university was heated, as a dpa reporter observed. Banners hung on the building, including the words “Free Palestine.” In the courtyard behind a fence, a few dozen occupiers stood and sat, some of them covered with Palestinian scarves. They chanted “Viva Palestine” and “Yallah Intifada.” Intifada refers to series of attacks and terrorist attacks by Palestinians in Israel and is also interpreted as a call to violence. According to the activist spokeswoman, around 100 squatters had stayed overnight at the institute. The university tolerated the occupation until Thursday at 6 p.m.

In the afternoon, Governing Mayor Wegner declared on Platform lawless spaces for anti-Semites and terror sympathizers”.

GdP: “The autonomy of teaching applies”

Criticism also came from the police union (GdP). “The autonomy of teaching applies, and universities in particular should be seen as a place for exchange and discussion,” said the regional association’s spokesman, Benjamin Jendro. But that is not a basis for legitimation to move outside the democratic framework, shout anti-Semitic and inhumane slogans, hold up anti-constitutional posters and commit property damage.

The conflict in the Middle East has now reached German universities. There are repeated protests against Israel’s actions in the Gaza war and actions by students in solidarity with the Palestinians. An occupation at the Free University of Berlin a few weeks ago was broken up by the police.

Protest also in Oxford

After the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7, which left more than 1,200 people dead, more than 35,000 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war that followed, according to the Hamas-controlled health authority, although the figure, which is difficult to verify independently, does not distinguish between civilians and fighters.

In the English university city of Oxford, police arrested 16 people during a protest. According to a BBC report, it was a sit-in by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Officers visited a square at the university on Thursday morning, police said. It had previously been reported that demonstrators had gained access to a private office in one of the buildings.