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Sit-in for Palestine

Raquel Frescia - Authorosqledaren@ths.kth.se

KTH for Palestine - Photographerosqledaren@ths.kth.se

On April 11, students and faculty at KTH participated in a sit-in at the university’s administration building. The demonstration, led by the group KTH for Palestine, protested the university’s ongoing collaborations with institutions involved in the plausible ongoing genocide of Palestinians. This action followed months of escalating efforts by the group, which had failed to yield the transparent dialogue they sought.

Before the sit-in, the group had engaged in 22 walkouts, three direct actions, and attempted dialogue through multiple emails and articles. Their concerns centred on the relationship between KTH and institutions believed to be complicit in human rights abuses — the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Technion University.

The campaign for accountability began in October 2023. In February 2023, KTH for Palestine presented its petition to the university administration for the first time. The petition, signed by over 500 KTH academics, called for an end to collaborations with these institutions, which support military actions considered by international bodies as genocidal. The initial submission of the petition was met with a generic response from the university, which KTH for Palestine argued failed to address the specifics of their concerns or the questions raised in their correspondence.

In response to the administration’s inaction, KTH for Palestine performed a sit-in to force a direct and transparent dialogue with KTH’s top officials and to push the university to reconsider its international partnerships in light of ethical and legal concerns outlined by international law.

Sit-in on Thursday, April 11

The sit-in at KTH’s administration building on April 11 began at 11:30 AM. The participants gathered, intending to remain until they were granted a meeting with the university rector to discuss their concerns.

The number of participants fluctuated slightly throughout the day, with at least 20 individuals present at all times, peaking at 26. Early into the protest, the university’s receptionist alerted security personnel, who arrived promptly. Security attempted to persuade the demonstrators to disperse, citing potential disruptions and safety risks, including fire hazards posed by the placards brought by some participants. However, the protesters maintained that they were conducting a peaceful demonstration and were not obstructing any emergency exits, asserting their right to protest based on their affiliations with the academic institution.

When it became apparent that the demonstrators would not voluntarily leave, security called the police. Upon arrival, the police engaged with security personnel and the protesters. After assessing the situation, the police concluded that the demonstration did not constitute a disruption to public order nor a fire hazard, as previously claimed, and therefore, the protesters had the right to remain.

The sit-in lasted a few hours, ending only when the rector agreed to come down and speak with the protesters and a meeting was scheduled.

Meeting on Monday, April 15

The meeting between KTH for Palestine and university officials occurred on April 15, following the sit-in at the university’s administration building. The meeting was attended by Anders Söderholm, the principal of KTH, Stefan Östlund, Vice President for International Relations, and Jill Klackenberg, Managing Communications Officer, and members of KTH for Palestine, who represented the voices of the 500 academics who had signed the petition demanding a reevaluation of the university’s international collaborations.

During the meeting, KTH for Palestine presented their concerns regarding the university’s affiliations with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Technion University, institutions involved in military actions that international bodies have labelled as potential genocide. The group argued that these affiliations violated international laws and Sweden’s obligations under the genocide convention, thereby putting KTH at odds with its stated ethical standards and responsibilities.

The university officials responded by outlining KTH’s stance on international collaborations. They emphasised the university’s policy of evaluating such partnerships on a case-by-case basis, prioritising academic benefits and adhering to government guidelines on international relations. The officials acknowledged the severity of the situation in Gaza. Still, they argued that cutting off all ties with the institutions in question could undermine long-term academic and democratic values, which they believed were essential even in times of conflict.

The discussion also touched on the broader implications of such decisions, with university officials comparing the situation with other international partnerships, including those in countries like China and Russia, where similar ethical and legal concerns had been raised. They highlighted the challenges of balancing academic freedom, safety, and ethical responsibilities in a global academic environment.

KTh for Palestine contested the comparison, arguing that the situation with the Israeli institutions was unique due to the explicit support of military actions classified as genocidal by international bodies. KTH for Palestine emphasised that maintaining collaborations under these circumstances not only contravened specific international laws but also compromised the moral integrity of the university.

They argued that KTH’s responsibilities under international law required more decisive action than what was being proposed by the administration. They insisted this was not merely an academic or philosophical debate but a clear legal and ethical obligation to disengage from complicity in recognised atrocities. The group underscored the urgency of aligning the university’s practices with its public ethical commitments and the principles of international law rather than deferring to broad governmental guidelines that may not address specific instances of complicity in human rights violations.

The meeting concluded without a definitive resolution, leaving KTH for Palestine dissatisfied with the university’s lack of commitment to make immediate changes. The university maintained that while they took the concerns seriously, any action would need to be carefully considered within the broader context of KTH’s policies and the Swedish government’s guidelines on international cooperation.

Response at KTH

While disappointed with the lack of definitive commitments from the university officials, members of the KTH felt that their actions had successfully highlighted the urgency and severity of the issues. They reiterated their commitment to continue their advocacy, stressing the need for the university to take a clearer stance aligned with international law and ethical practices.

The wider KTH community’s response varied. Some students and faculty members expressed their support for the actions taken by KTH for Palestine, praising their efforts to hold the university accountable. Others were more sceptical, questioning the feasibility and potential repercussions of severing academic ties based on political issues, concerned about the broader implications for academic freedom and international collaboration.

Meanwhile, KTH for Palestine leveraged the attention the sit-in had garnered to further their cause, continuing the weekly walk-outs every Tuesday at 11:30 AM by KTH Entré, organising follow-up events and discussions to keep the momentum going and pressuring the university into making more transparent and ethically sound decisions, indicating that the sit-in was just one step in a more extensive, ongoing campaign to effect change at KTH.

Publicerad: 2024-05-01

Ansvarig utgivare: Raquel Frescia
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