Berlin’s Humboldt University sends police to violently disband peaceful Gaza sit-in

On Friday at lunchtime, around 150 students gathered for a sit-in in front of the entrance to Berlin’s Humboldt University (HU) to demand an end to the genocide in Gaza. When the Israeli assault on Gaza began, the university had immediately declared its solidarity with Israel and banned critical events against the genocide.

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The sit-in was initiated by members of the Student Coalition Berlin and other groups. The protesters demanded an immediate ceasefire, an end to German and Western arms deliveries to Israel, comprehensive humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza and democratic rights for all Palestinians.

As soon as news of the sit-in spread on social media, the police arrived with dozens of officers and cordoned off the campus, in agreement with the university administration. A spontaneous gathering of supporters of the sit-in was cordoned off and, in the meantime, no one was able to enter the courtyard and take part in the protest. Students who said they were scheduled to take part in seminars in the building were denied entry by the police on the grounds of suspicion, for example if they were wearing a kufiyah. Officers were also posted in the main university building.

Even the cafeteria adjacent to the student refectory was guarded by police, so that the entire university campus was effectively under police siege for hours. An employee of the university’s security service, who had already tried to snatch the microphone from the hands of speakers at a registered student rally in December, once again physically assaulted a speaker from the “Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East” association.

Humboldt University President Julia von Blumenthal (back row right) talks to police officers during the sit-in at Humboldt-University, May 3, 2024

HU President Julia von Blumenthal was present during these events. She grabbed a megaphone herself to condemn the students’ protest and demand the “shouting” be stopped. When asked what she had to say about the demands read out and the near 40,000 people killed in Gaza, she initially refused to comment and finally declared: “My sympathy goes to the Hamas hostages.”

This barely disguised support for the Israeli war effort is in line with the previous record of Humboldt University, which is notorious as a centre of war propaganda. Von Blumenthal is also in favour of the reintroduction of a stricter university regulatory law, including the possibility of deregistering students on a political basis.

"Germany funds genocide in Gaza”—protest at Humboldt University, May 3, 2024

Von Blumenthal’s demand that the protest must give way to “dialog” was rejected by a student who confronted her with the fact that the university administration had refused to provide the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) university group with a room for an event against the massacre in Gaza. In response, von Blumenthal declared that if the protesters “do not leave peacefully now, I will make use of my domiciliary rights.”

And this is what then happened. At around 4:30 p.m., police violently dispersed the completely peaceful student gathering. Students were arrested one by one and taken away, with police using painful grips. The police had used the same brutal methods just a few days earlier to break up the Gaza protest camp in front of the Bundestag (federal parliament).

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Protest participants who spoke to members of the IYSSE, expressed solidarity with their fellow students in the United States, who are also protesting against the genocide in Gaza at American universities. There, police are now using firearms against students and have even violently arrested several female professors. Speaking to the protesters, the IYSSE has called for the working class to mobilise against imperialism and war.

In Berlin, Christopher from the IYSSE at the HU said in a statement at the sit-in: “The IYSSE supports the courageous protests of the students at the HU. University President Blumenthal must not be allowed to ban any criticism of the horrific genocide in Gaza from campus while protecting the right-wing extremist Professor Baberowski, who declares that Hitler was not vicious and that the Holocaust was essentially the same as shootings in the Russian civil war.”

In particular, Christopher called on university staff to walk off the job and defend the students. “The goal must be a nationwide and international strike that will end the attack on the fundamental right of free speech. Ultimately, the issues at stake now will not be fought on campus—but in the factories and warehouses, on the railways and in the harbours. The working class, the most powerful social force on earth, which creates all wealth through its labour, must use this power to force an end to genocide and war.”