Student occupations in solidarity with Palestine

On 14 January, students at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London occupied the Brunei Gallery Suite in protest at an MoD exhibition and in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Within days, students at the London School of Economics and King’s College London had also occupied lecture theatres in protest at the Zionist assault.

The following weeks saw over 25 university campuses occupied by students across the whole of Britain, with students taking confidence from the initial actions in London and the growing momentum of the movement, and sharing their experiences and tactics on-line through blogs and social networking sites. Direct action intensified even after Israel’s declaration of a ‘ceasefire’, with Sheffield University students going into occupation on 23 March. At Nottingham University and Sheffield Hallam, management employed security guards to forcibly evict protestors and cut off all power and supplies. However, real concessions were won from university management in many areas including statements of condemnation against Israeli aggression, donating surplus materials to Gaza, establishing scholarship funds for Palestinian students and divestment from arms companies.

The occupations were the first instance of students in Britain engaging in such political radicalism for over 25 years, and added a significant dimension to the massive wave of Palestine protests across the country. While university campuses in France, Greece and Italy have consistently been arenas for occupation and protest, it was for once British students who took the lead. Their actions gained international news coverage and inspired occupations in New York and elsewhere.

On 23 January the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees hailed the protests as a ‘welcome continuation of those efforts aimed at holding Israel accountable for its injustice and crimes’ and urged students to widen their demands tor a boycott of Israel. At Strathclyde University in Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh students successfully fought for a campus ban on Israeli-owned water company Eden Springs, but in Newcastle the RCG was the only group to oppose the dropping of a call for a boycott from the students’ demands.

Joseph Eskovitchl
FRFI 208 April / May 2009


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