Students at prestigious Paris university protest over Israel-Gaza war


Students at one of France's top universities occupied its premises overnight Thursday after police broke up a pro-Palestinian demonstration there on Wednesday. It follows similar waves of anger across college campuses in the US in protest over Israel's bombardment of Gaza.  

Several dozen students at the Paris campus of Sciences Po staged a sit-in Thursday night. Rubbish bins and and other material blocked the main entrance on Friday morning, the French news agency AFP reported.

Organisers – members of the university's Palestine Committee of Sciences Po – are calling for a "clear condemnnation of Israel's action by Sciences Po" and a cut in ties with universities and companies that are complicit in "the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people". 

The committee also demands a commemorative event "in memory of the innocent people killed by Israel".

Police evacuation

Police intervened on Wednesday evening as dozens of students gathered on the campus for a pro-Palestinian rally.

"After discussions with management, most of them agreed to leave the premises," university officials said in a statement to AFP – saying the protest was adding to "tensions" at the university.

But after a small group of students refused to leave, "it was decided that the police would evacuate the site," the statement added.

Sciences Po said it regretted that "numerous attempts" to have the students leave the premises peacefully had failed.

According to the police préfecture, students had set up around 10 tents.

Red line

In a statement on Thursday, the committee said its activists had been carried out of the school by more than 50 security forces – adding that "around 100" police officers had also been waiting for them outside.

Sciences Po management "stubbornly refuses to engage in genuine dialogue", the group said.

Separately, the Student Union of Sciences Po Paris said the decision by university officials to call in police was "both shocking and deeply worrying" and reflected "an unprecedented authoritarian turn".

"The director has crossed a red line by deciding to send in the police," said Ines Fontenelle, a member of the Student Union.

"Management must take steps to restore a climate of trust."

Union spokeswoman Eleonore Schmitt said the students would continue to mobilise "despite repression".

Israel-Hamas war

Many top US universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks, with some students furious over the Israel-Hamas war and ensuing humanitarian crisis in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza.

France is home to the world's largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States, as well as Europe's biggest Muslim community.

There has been a reported spike in both Islamophobia and antisemitism in France since the war in Gaza broke out on 7 October 2023 with an unprecedented attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel.

Last month French President Emmanuel Macron condemned "intolerable" antisemitic remarks reportedly made during another pro-Palestinian protest at Sciences Po university.

Around 1,170 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the 7 October attack, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel retaliated with a military offensive that has killed at least 34,305 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

(with newswires)