Greece: Students in Solidarity with Gaza – Universities in Ties with Israel

A large rally led by students in Greece’s capital city Athens began shortly after 7 p.m. outside the Rectorate of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The participating student associations hung a giant banner at the entrance of the Rectorate, which read: “This Genocide Bears the Stamp of the USA EU Israel. No to the involvement of Greece. Free Palestine.”

Greece is indirectly involved in the conflict, having deployed a frigate to the Red Sea since February to help protect merchant ships from Houthi rebel attacks as part of an EU naval mission in the region. Politically, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis supports Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Starting in the afternoon, the students set up tents, many carrying Palestinian flags. Protesters displayed photos from similar demonstrations at U.S. universities. Students from all over the world spoke, including Susan Salam of the Palestine Jerusalem Union, who connected via telephone to express her thanks to the Greek students for their solidarity. In the evening, the gathering closed with concerts and artistic events.

More than 500 km away, in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, students pitched their tents in front of the White Tower, the most popular monument in the city. They were joined there by Palestinians who have fled to Greece since the beginning of the war.

Among the Palestinian refugees who joined was Hader — he told Unicorn Riot that he left Gaza in December, crossing into Egypt and from there to Turkey. From the Turkish city of Bodrum he crossed by sea to the Greek island of Kos and he currently lives in Thessaloniki. His wife and their two children are stranded in Rafah. He hadn’t spoken to them for four days when Unicorn Riot spoke with him.

Back in Athens, Unicorn Riot heard from a student representative, Angelos Thomopoulos. “Today we become another link in the long chain of students worldwide who are demonstrating for Palestine. All the students in the world, from the USA and Greece, we are shouting with one voice ‘Freedom for Palestine’,” Mr. Thompopoulos told Unicorn Riot.

The Occupation of the Law School, Police Intervention and Protesters Ordered to be Deported

After the end of the overnight protest in Athens, a group of students and solidarity activists occupied Athens University Law School as a sign of protest and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The next morning, May 14, large forces of Greek police evicted the occupation and arrested 28 people.

Unicorn Riot contacted Elli Piperidi, who was an eyewitness to the raid and a law student herself. She said that “in just a few seconds, the police surrounded the Law School. Various police teams broke the door and the lock. After arresting the 28 people, they continued to be in the premises for about an hour.”

Immediately after the police intervention, students of law and other departments gathered at the faculty premises, protesting against the presence of the police. “In this way, we managed to drive away the repressive forces,” Ms. Piperidi told UR by phone. 

Of the 28 people arrested, 9 remain in custody awaiting deportation. They are European citizens from England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, whom the Greek state decided to deport for reasons of public order.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appeared to be tougher than the U.S. government in his comments on the protests, saying: “If some people think that they can repeat what they may have seen in other countries and occupy universities, set up tents and create a mess, they are deeply mistaken.”

Greek Universities Tied to Israel

But why are Greek students protesting? Greece is not only a long-standing ally of Israel, but also cooperates heavily with Israel on research and development. In particular, five universities cooperate with Israeli institutions, either for research purposes or in the form of student exchange.

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki cooperates with the universities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ben Gurion. The National Technical University of Athens sends its students to Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and according to the Greek website INFO-WAR, boasts of designing the uniforms of soldiers fighting in Gaza.

Students at institutions in Greece are calling for the universities to terminate their cooperation with Israel. But the overlapping issues extend beyond the universities. Thessaloniki is setting up ThessINTEC, a technology park 15 kilometers outside the city center. The project is co-financed with €30 million from Israeli funds and a Memorandum of Understanding has already been signed with the Israeli Gav-Yam Negev Technology Park. The park in Beer Sheva is hosting research teams for the Israeli arms industry. As soon as ThessINTEC becomes a reality, Gav-Yam Negev will create facilities in Thessaloniki that will occupy up to 50,000 square meters from the 250,000 in total.

George Schinas contributed to this reporting.

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