Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Ghent students occupy university building in climate and Gaza protest
Climate Environment World News

Ghent students occupy university building in climate and Gaza protest

More than 100 students have occupied Ghent University in the first European protest to fuse demands about Gaza and the climate crisis.

Ghent’s centrepiece UFO building was peacefully taken over by students calling for concrete action to meet the university’s 2030 climate plans, and asking the university to cut ties with institutions connected to the Israeli military.

Tents were erected inside the building, which contains all of the university’s administrative functions. Its 1,000-seater “guillotine wall” lecture hall was given over to an impromptu workshop on “how we can find hope in a world full of genocide and global warming”.

More than 200 Ghent students were expected to join the three-day protest as anger rose ahead of an expected Israeli assault on Rafah, while students at Amsterdam University also staged an occupation.

A spokesperson for the Ghent students who gave her name as Joelle said their action had grown out of an occupation last year by End Fossil Gent, and student rage over events in Gaza. A joint mobilising leaflet with Gent Students for Palestine used the theme of “free Palestine is a climate justice issue”.

“We realised that both our struggles were against the university’s failure to commit to values they claim to hold,” Joelle said.

“We can see that the struggle for Palestine is also a struggle for climate justice. The Israeli occupation force is committing an ecocide in Gaza, destroying all elements of life and nature.

“Israel’s settler ‘green colonialism’ destroys indigenous land and plants non-indigenous trees over ethnically cleansed villages.

“There are also issues of toxic pollution by settlers and the allocation of water and land. The two struggles are interconnected so climate activists are in solidarity with us on Palestine, and we realise that this is also a climate issue. Our demands go hand in hand.”

An open letter from the students says they want the university to publish a time-linked action plan for cutting ties with what they call “Israeli institutions complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”.

Ghent University has links to a number of Israeli institutions that are said to provide “material” support to the war in Gaza or Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Tel Aviv University, with which Ghent has most partnerships, has drawn particular ire from students due to its role in Israel’s defence against genocide charges at the international court of justice in The Hague, and its academic support for soldiers in Gaza.

Equally, the students want “effective and binding action” to urgently implement the university’s 2030 climate transition plans, which they say would mean putting sustainability goals at the heart of budgetary and educational decisions.

Ghent University is committed to becoming progressively fossil fuel free, cutting its energy consumption by 2.5% each year and becoming climate neutral by 2050.

It also has a policy to achieve 80% “sustainable mobility” by 2030, in part by boosting bicycle infrastructure on campus. But students say that too little has been done.

The university did not respond to a request for comment but its director, Rick Van de Walle, posted a statement saying it had decided that its ethical policies would not change and that “no deviation from the existing human rights policy will be used with regard to one particular country, in this case Israel”.

Source: theguardian.com