Pro-Palestinian movement at EPFL: update

© 2024 EPFL

© 2024 EPFL

A group, not recognised by the School, called for a pro-Palestinian demonstration within the walls of the EPFL on May 7. The Management has met representatives of this movement on 8 May. A new demonstration took place on 16 May. 

Update May 24, 3:00 pm:

Martin Vetterli, president of EPFL, and Kathryn Hess Bellwald, vice-president for students affairs and outreach, today took the stage in front of about 360 members of the EPFL community that had responded to the invitation to the Town Hall. The members of the EPFL management answered numerous questions for almost two hours. The full transcript of the discussions will be available shortly on this page.

Update May 17, 2024, 4:00 pm:

The EPFL management has sent today the message below (NB: in French, it is translated here for the sake of a better circulation of information within the EPFL community) to the representatives of the pro-palestinian movement:

Dear Coordination,

Following yesterday's events in the SG building, we are obliged to review our position regarding attempts at occupation or unauthorized demonstrations.
Indeed, the deterioration of the situation during the occupation, the beginning of a brawl on campus linked to the putting up/removal of posters in connection with the occupation, the hostile reactions of part of our community towards this event and the perceived embarrassment, the insults uttered during the demonstration towards at least one EPFL staff member, the cancellation of a course due to the situation in the SG building and the insistence of part of the occupants to want to stay despite repeated requests make us fear an uncontrollable deterioration of the situation.

As a result, we will no longer tolerate unauthorized demonstrations or occupations in EPFL buildings. Offenders will be identified and will face legal proceedings and disciplinary sanctions; immediate evacuations will be undertaken.

As stated yesterday, we regret once again that we are unable to continue the dialogue established by mutual agreement on May 7. The rest of the commitments made during the May 8 exchange remain valid, as stipulated in the minutes posted online.

The President of EPFL, Martin Vetterli, also sent an e-mail to the whole community. It can be read on this page.

Update May 16, 2024, 6:40 pm:

The EPFL management, believing that the course taken by the demonstrators is likely to establish a power struggle rather than provide a framework conducive to discussion, has maintained its demand that the demonstrators leave the premises as soon as possible. Following the model of the May 8 meeting, the management expects the new demands to be formulated in writing, as well as any requests for discussion. It will also propose a meeting, open to all members of the EPFL community, to be held at the end of next week. Details will be announced shortly.

The demonstrators were asked to leave. To its regret, the EPFL had to call in the police to evacuate a final group at 6.30pm. It eventually went out without using force.

Update May 16, 2024, 1:30 pm:

The EPFL management has been contacted by e-mail by the "Coordination étudiante pour la Palestine" at 11:59 this morning (NB: the exchange below was originally in French, it is translated here for the sake of a better circulation within the EPFL community):

Hello,

In an effort to build a dialogue and rebuild trust with the school's students, we invite you to come to Hall SG, where students are waiting for an interview with their management.

This is a peaceful gathering, in no way blocking the school's educational mission. Like the students you expelled last week, the students are demanding an end to the genocide in Gaza, and an end to their school's partnerships with Israeli universities that contribute to the Netanyahu government's war effort.

There's no need to repeat last week's incidents; this is another chance for the administration to show itself open to dialogue and attentive to its student population. We therefore urge you to attend in person, where we assure you that the students⸱es are open⸱es to dialogue. We can only urge you not to make the same mistakes and not to resort to the police in a situation that everyone hopes will be peaceful, open to all and which wishes to avoid rising tensions at all costs.

Best regards,
Student Coordination for Palestine

The management responded as follows:

Hello,

Thank you for your message. We are disappointed with the way you have proceeded. On May 7, 2024, we offered you several options for a discussion. After much to-ing and fro-ing [see below], you opted for a meeting between two delegations, which took place the following day.

Now you're backtracking on your commitment and the mode of exchange that has been set up. This occupation undermines the trust and constructiveness that we welcomed at the end of our May 8 meeting.

We will not tolerate this occupation and expect you to leave the premises.

With our best regards.

Update of 8 May 2024: EPFL management has met representatives of the pro-Palestinian movement that organised the previous day's occupation at the end of the day on 8 May. As agreed, the minutes of the meeting (in French) have been disclosed just after having been approved by both parties. The "town hall" that had initially been proposed for the whole community will not take place, as it was not accepted by the group.

EPFL regrets the occupation of the hall of the SG building by some 80 people between 11.45am and 6pm on 7 May, 2024. The demonstration was organised by the "Student Coordination for Palestine" (CEP in French), which is not a recognised EPFL association. It comes after the same group sent demands by email on Friday 3 May.

The EPFL management sent a delegation to try to establish a dialogue with the members of the EPFL community present on site. At the end of five hours of discussions, the parties agreed to organise a meeting on the following day between members of the EPFL management and an equivalent number of student representatives, who would focus on their demands. It was also agreed that minutes would be made public at the end of the meeting and that a bipartite press conference would be organised. Management also undertook not to take any academic sanctions against the demonstrators.

The agreement also asked the demonstrators to leave the premises of their own free will, which they did shortly before 6pm, in the presence of the police but without any intervention on their part.

In order to maintain the school's activities, all the buildings on campus are reserved for members of the EPFL community until further notice. Access is by Camipro card. It is not permitted to let anyone in who is not a member of the EPFL community.

As these events have raised many interrogations from the community, we publish the main questions and answers below.

On the day's activities and EPFL's reaction

Why was the building barricaded?

Mainly for safety reasons, to prevent hundreds of people from entering without a specific safety concept/evacuation plan having been drawn up (as would be the case for any large event).

Why chain emergency exits?

The aim was to limit the number of entry points, but there were still more than enough exits and the presence of security guards would have facilitated any emergency evacuation. There was never any security risk in this respect. An agent was present at each closed door to be able to open it if necessary.

Why did you want to evacuate the demonstrators from day one?

EPFL's mission is teaching, research and innovation. Even 'peaceful' demonstrations of this kind clearly interfere with the normal functioning of a building because of the disruption (noise and movement) they generate. EPFL offers its community several points of contact and maintains regular dialogue with various associations. It relies on constructive dialogue and believes that occupying a building is not a good basis for it.

What has EPFL proposed, and why "Zionists" in townhall?

In order to meet the demands of the demonstrators, who wanted the management to be present "in a plenary meeting", the EPFL management proposed that a round table be organised for the entire EPFL community. Since partisan demonstrations are forbidden at EPFL, it was clear that the panel had to be balanced. The presence of members of the EPFL community affected by the situation, whatever their origin, religion or political opinion, is essential for a discussion not with a single movement but with all students. The demonstrators refused this proposal, as they were opposed to the invitation from a member of Shalom (an official student association).

Was there any violence?

No, neither the security services nor the police needed to use force. The closure of access to the building, which was perceived by some as a violent reaction, was implemented to ensure everyone's safety. EPFL apologises for the discomfort felt by some users.

Was there any damage?

A glass door was damaged (not by the demonstrators).

Why were the police present at the scene?

The management quickly informed the demonstrators that the EPFL would not accept the building being occupied overnight. During the afternoon discussions, they were asked to leave peacefully by 5pm, failing which the building would be evacuated. As the discussions went on beyond that time, a deadline of 5.30pm was subsequently granted. The police were present, but did not need to intervene.

On the EPFL's position

Why did you accept Shalom as a recognised association and not the CEP?

EPFL has never received a request for recognition as an association from members of the CEP. However, it did receive such a request for Shalom on 29 January 2024 and recognised the association on 2 April.

Why did you agree to meet with the CEP?

The EPFL Board did not meet "the CEP", but a delegation of EPFL students who carried their message. We think it is very useful for us to have an in-depth discussion, in a peaceful setting, so that each party can express their views and we can respond to them in depth.

How will you respond to their demands?

The minutes of the meeting have been made public afterwards, on the evening of 8 May.

What collaborations do you currently have with Israeli institutions that the demonstrators are calling for a boycott of?

We currently have 25 active research programmes involving several partners, some of which are in Israel. 22 of these are European H2020 or Horizon Europe programmes, 2 are SNSF projects and one is a Swiss Confederation project. The main Israeli institutions taking part in these projects are the Weizmann Institute of science (7 projects), Technion (4 projects) and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (4 projects).
A complete list of these projects is currently being compiled and will shortly be available on https://middleeast.epfl.ch


Author: EPFL Direction

Source: EPFL