Groningen mayor visits Harmonie encampment in bid to start dialogue again

On Monday afternoon, Groningen mayor Koen Schuiling once again visited the Pro-Palestinian encampment. He hopes to restart a dialogue with the protesters. 

Despite the heavy rain, a group of around twenty protesters, both students and staff members, welcomed the mayor in a tent on the Harmonie square. He had previously visited the camp twice, to get to know the protesters. The city’s council members also met with them last week. 

Schuiling’s main concern this time was to get the protesters and the university talking. The protesters have said they refuse to engage in discussion with the UG until they see their demands taken seriously. ‘The university council is trying to find a way to solve this. But it’s getting deeper and deeper, so we have to open up the dialogue again’, he explained.

Referring to last weekend’s open letter signed by fifteen universities, including the UG, regarding academic collaboration with Israel, he said: ‘The university has said they won’t cut ties with Israeli institutions, but they didn’t say what they are willing to do.’ And that second part is just as important, he feels. ‘At the end of the day, we have to do something together.’ 

Action

Schuiling is also hoping to meet with the university board this week to look into what the UG can do to initiate that dialogue. The protesters claim that previous attempts failed because the university wouldn’t treat them as equals, leading the discussion on their own predetermined terms.

‘The dialogue starts with action’, one of the protesters told Schuiling. ‘The burden of proof is now on the university’, another added. 

‘We need an action in good faith, to show us that there’s not a monopolised power that decides the parameters of the dialogue’, one of the staff members explained. ‘As you came here, in the encampment, to discuss with us’, another protester told the mayor. ‘That’s done in good faith.’

Emotional

The meeting mostly went smoothly, until the protesters confronted the mayor with a video about the police brutality during previous student demonstrations, and with the arrest of a protester the first night of the encampment – illegally, he claimed.

‘There are a lot of ways to express your opinion besides this encampment’, was the mayor’s initial reaction after the video. That’s when things got emotional: ‘It’s not an opinion, it’s a reality. They are not listening. They are hurting people. They are attacking. We are telling you the truth and you’re asking that we think of other ways to do this’, came the response of one of the encampment’s spokespersons.

In the end, the mayor promised to show the video to the university, while urging the protesters to discuss how long they plan on keeping the encampment and what else they could talk about together to find a way to solve this. ‘I don’t need an answer now. But it’s cold, it’s raining, and I can’t take care of this encampment 24/7’, he said.

Quieter

Meanwhile, the encampment has grown quieter in the past week. During the day, fewer students are on the square because of the exam period. ‘People go to their exams but then they come back. Many of them are staying the night and we use a schedule to rotate’, a spokesperson said. 

Even so, there are still a lot of people in the camp, they claim. ‘Staff members visit us on some nights. Palestinian people from Friesland also visited us recently’, the spokesperson added. ‘We are tired, but still going strong.’

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