Skip to content

Palestine solidarity encampments at UvA: experiences and reflections

By Bariş Eser – Neither the student organizers nor the University of Amsterdam (UvA) Board of Directors (CvB) expected the outpouring of support upon the eviction of the first encampment at the Roeterseiland campus. The strike and solidarity demo announced by UvA staff was attended by a thousand or more people, who later formed a demo marching towards the Amsterdam city center. The attending crowd of students, university staff and Amsterdammers were highly energetic, but so were the supportive bystanders, young and old, honking from their cars and chanting from their homes. Presumably, thinking on their feet, the organizers directed the demo towards the Oudemanhuispoort premises of UvA, where another occupation was spontaneously established. The ability of students to step out of the political repertoire of representative politics by taking over and transforming spaces, whether universities or streets, is what really turned the students’ dissent into an organic movement beyond what the initial organizers could have created by themselves.

The torrent of protestors flocked into Oudemanhuispoort: barricades were promptly erected; the alumni and staff cafe was turned into a public space, its kitchen put into use; piles of food, water and medical supplies appeared, as well as a corner with a collection of political books. Chants, drums, laughter, and the dismantling of pavements filled the silence, while people formed logistic chains to carry the bricks to reinforce the barricades. Unexpectedly, I ran into three close friends, and even many more that I hadn’t seen for months. I also made many new friends: people’s capacity to trust each other so elevated, I even made friends in the toilet line. At least three other participants expressed similar experiences, suggesting that the encampment served as a venue for connection.

As the evening unfolded, the occupiers anxiously awaited the next move from mayor Halsema and the CvB. As a majority went back to their homes, the numbers of people in the camp dwindled, but at all times remained more than 100-200 strong. Presumably due to both the CvB’s reluctance after the audacious escalation of the students, and also due to the exhaustion of riot police throughout the week, the police announced around 23:00 that they will not evict the camp during the night.

Although the first encampment was initiated by staff and student organizers, it was attended by many Palestinian and leftist organizations of varying sizes, along with non-affiliated individuals. While the organizers strove to accommodate this diversity, their position meant that they were more likely to use certain tactics. As an anthropologist, similar to other participants who had been socialized in higher education institutions, I sympathized with the tactics which initially composed the organizers’ toolkit, namely, those which relied on using the cultural capital and respectability derived from higher-education. This meant that the negotiation process and media representation were primary concerns. Yet, what the camps learned by themselves was that power arose from the material and social world at least as much as from the cultural field: if the camps hadn’t built the barricades, the protestors would be simply picked up one-by-one by the police, as it happened in other occupations. As the participants recognized, physical obstruction was their central leverage. Confrontation with police violence meant increasing alienation from status-quo representation and legality, while also bringing forth practical questions of logistics, space, and communication—questions which have to be answered in order to constitute a social force independent from the center of power. The immovable barricades were thus testaments to bodies, thoughts and emotions on the move, negotiating between cultural capital and social efficacy, while in the process making participants into actors.

In the afternoon, a general assembly was held upon requests of participants to exercise collective decision making, deliberating on immediate practical issues and the next steps we should take as the camp. Sadly, such developments were cut short by the dedication of the CvB to evict the camp earlier rather than to let it build towards something unmanageable. After the breach of the barricades around 17:00, the riot police wreaked havoc in the camp, beating up quite a few protestors but arresting only around 40 people. Rounded up for more than an hour by the police, we were unexpectedly told that we would be let free towards Rokin. At the moment I was really perplexed as to why this happened, but then I found out that  perhaps thousands of protestors were supporting us in different locations, some close to the Dam, some at Rokin, and some next to our encampment. In an extreme gesture of solidarity, they had managed, while receiving baton blows, to block and immobilize the city busses which were going to be taking us prospective arrestees. Let go, we marched with immense joy to Rokin, jumping, hugging each other, and our comrades who were welcoming us there. Receiving the genuine solidarity of people who had risked themselves for us convinced me that I was part of a political movement. I knew that no matter how events were to unfold, I had people to trust; that, through extending that to Palestine, we were also extending it to each other.

Bariş Eser is a graduate of the Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the VU and currently working on his PhD.

The picture at the top of this blog was taken by Bas Hordijk.


  1. Who cares (or even knows) about people bombed and killed in other wars around the world right now, when we have the trendiest war of all.

  2. Rupi Rupi


  3. Freek Colombijn Freek Colombijn

    Dear Bariş
    Thank you for these thoughtful observations of what Kurt Iveson calls do-it-yourself urbanism. You are an activist and urban anthropologist at the same time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *