Students in Britain have been a dynamic and powerful part of the movement that has sprung up in solidarity with the Palestinians over the last few weeks.
Thousands of students have joined the mass protests that have taken place across the country against Israel’s massacre of the Palestinians.
University campuses have seen an infectious mood for action.
The match was lit when students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) occupied a space against the presence of a Ministry of Defence exhibition on campus and in solidarity with people in Gaza.
This sparked a wave of occupations as students in many different universities took action.
The action hit Sussex university, the London School of Economics (LSE), Kings College, London, Essex university, Warwick university, Cambridge university, Leeds university, Manchester Metropolitan university and Oxford university.
A number of the occupations, including those at Soas, LSE, Oxford and Essex, won most of their demands.
This was the widest and most militant action to take place among students for a number of years. The scale of the protests, and the support they gathered from other students, mark a significant shift in attitudes.
Some showed their support by joining the occupations, others by voting for pro-Palestinian positions in student union meetings, and others by attending meetings in the occupied, or liberated, spaces on campus.
Sofia Zabolotskih, a student from the LSE, said, “We weren’t at all isolated in our occupation. People came to visit us and sent us emails and texts of support. Lecturers and cleaning staff also popped in to tell us they were on our side.”
From the 1960s to the 1990s there was widespread support for Israel in universities. There were strong Zionist groups on most campuses.
But Israel’s continued brutal oppression of the Palestinians and a strong anti-war movement, with deep anti-imperialist inclinations, has severely weakened this state of affairs.
The anti-war movement that began in 2001 has continually raised the slogan of “Free Palestine”.
Vlad Unkovski-Kornica, from the LSE, said, “There is a convergence between the anti-war movement here and Palestinians’ struggle against Israel’s treatment of them.
“When people see struggle overseas, in places that are much more impoverished than our own, they feel like they can and should do something.
“The anti-war movement has given people the confidence to fight back. We have connected the struggles from Gaza to London.”
The occupations have created huge political debates on campus, with everyone debating the effectiveness of occupying university spaces, and the issues raised by it.
Israel’s supporters have tried to spread the scurrilous accusation that pro-Palestinian students are antisemitic. But these lies have been effectively combated.
A press conference in the occupied lecture theatre at Kings College on Thursday of last week saw students from Sussex, the LSE and Kings take questions from other students and the press.
Bushra Khalidi from Sussex said, “Criticism of Israel and antisemitism are two separate things. Don’t try and blur the two. We are here in solidarity with the people of Palestine and our campaign is for their freedom, not for the removal of anyone else’s.”
The occupations have all made similar demands on their university managements.
These include the demands that educational equipment, such as books and computers, be sent to Gaza, an amnesty for the students involved in the protests and occupations, and a fundraising day for Gaza to help rebuild the things that Israel destroyed.
Students at Kings, who were still occupying as Socialist Worker went to press, have set themselves these targets and more.
The university has given Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, an honorary doctorate without asking the student body. Revoking this is the central demand of the students’ campaign and has won much support on campus.
Sara el Sheekh, a student at Kings, said, “People are joining us every day. We are determined to stay until we win our demand.
“Students from Kings spoke at the rally of the Stop the War demo in London last Saturday. We are very much part of this movement.
“People from all walks of life should email the principal of Kings to express their solidarity and push to get Peres’ doctorate revoked.”
The students have won many demands already. They will be going to meet the university council, a management body, to demand they open the books on the connections between Kings and arms companies.
The victories this movement has already had will help shape a generation of students who are learning how to fight and win real gains.
Email messages of protest to the Kings principal Rick Trainor at [email protected]