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 will meet representatives of this movement on 8 May.

Update of 8 May 2024: EPFL management will be meeting representatives of the pro-Palestinian movement that organised the previous day’s occupation at the end of the day on 8 May. 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. 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 discussion 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 questions from the community, the editors have published the main questions and answers below.

1. 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 went without saying 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.

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.

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.

2. 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 will not be meeting with "the CEP", but with a delegation of EPFL students who will carry their message. We think it is very useful for us to have an in-depth discussion, in a peaceful setting, so that they can express their demands and we can respond to them in depth.

How will you respond to their demands’

- The minutes of the meeting will be 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 at this address: go.epfl.ch/CollaborationsIsrael