By Thomas Foster
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2907

Police evict Oxford student occupation for Palestine—but only after a fight

Plus debates about strategy in the student encampments
Issue 2907
a crowd shot of students sat in front of a police van illustrating an article about Palestine student encampments

Pro-Palestine students in Oxford support the occupiers against the cops

Police in Oxford swooped in and arrested 16 students who had begun an occupation of the vice chancellor’s office on Thursday. But the cops only got them out after a struggle. 

Activists began the occupation and hung Palestinians flags outside of the university administration building as well as a banner of their demands for the university to divest.

A local activist told Socialist Worker, “Police then went to arrest all 16 of the students involved in the occupation, but students rallied outside the building. Around 350 students outside blocked all exits to the building, preventing police vans from leaving with the arrested students. It’s an incredible show of solidarity. It’s very militant.”

Students chanted, “Let them out,” and, “40,000 people dead and you’re arresting kids instead,”outside main entrance to Oxford university offices.

The police then tried to bring another van down the main road, but students sat down in front of the van, blocking it from moving. “Students are sitting in front and behind the van, it has been completely stopped,” the local activist said. 

The police forced their way through the crowd to the van with one arrested student just before 1pm. But protesters were undeterred. “Students have been here for over four hours and the chants and numbers are continuing,” said the local activist. 

A police van eventually got through the student blockade and police took all of the activists who began the occupation into police custody. “The students outside have now moved to picket the head of colleges conference that is happening nearby,” a local activist said.

“The students went in at 8am and the police got them out at 2:30pm. We didn’t get them released and it’s worth noting that the college authorities initiated the calling of the police.”

The rage of students across Britain shows no sign of fading. In Edinburgh, students have set up an encampment against the £55 million of investments the university has in companies that support the Israeli military or apartheid system.

Shea, an Edinburgh university student involved in the encampment, told Socialist Worker the encampment is trying to draw more people in. “The shift began on Monday,” he said. “On Tuesday, we had a stall and mass leafleting for a staff-student rally.

“There is a desire to grow the encampment. By being more outward facing we can get more students involved who haven’t yet been. And there has been discussion with staff about how to unite with them.”

Shea said, “The university is the biggest employer and landlord in Edinburgh and so we are trying to get the wider working class involved.” And around 100 students and staff attended a rally on Wednesday where the “theme carried by most of the speakers was trying to link student and worker struggle”.

“When Palestinians struggle, they weaken our class enemies. When we struggle, we weaken their class enemies,” he said. “It has the same root in capitalism. Whatever nations we are from we have the same struggle and so students and workers have to unite together.”

Eva, a student at the Edinburgh university encampment, told Socialist Worker, “We have noticed that we need to keep up morale in the encampment. The same group of people doing a lot of work. It becomes exhausting.”

So she argued, “We need to put in effort to make the encampment bigger. The encampment has revitalised the Palestine movement in Edinburgh and so we can’t afford to let it dwindle.”

Eva said there are debates happening in the encampment “about how to make the movement more radical”, with some putting a more inward strategy forward. “Growing the encampment itself is a clear escalation and response to the apathy of the university administration,” she said. 

“Expanding has been a conscious effort as part of escalation. It’s a way to be more radical—making the camp the political centre of the city and that it’s not just forgotten.” 

Eva said that “outreach has been successful so far”. “We’ve been doing stalls and leafleting. People are interested in listening to our political arguments, interested in participating in the encampment and helping it expand and be more radical.”

But, she said, “Outreach to staff still needs to be worked on. Around 600 staff members have signed a letter in support of the divestment campaign. While solidarity is great, it’s not enough. We need the staff to engage in strikes and the same level of activity as students.”

“University workers have a different power and can force the university to shift. That’s what happened in 1968”—when student revolt detonated militant working class action. 

At Aberdeen students are demanding their university permanently divests from Israeli apartheid and releases a statement openly condemning Israel and its genocide. 

Rory, a student at Aberdeen university who’s involved in the encampment, told Socialist Worker that the encampment has been making efforts to grow. He said, “At the beginning the encampment grew organically but we have recently driven to get more people involved.”

He explained that the encampment was first as “an escalation on campus, as a good way of forcing engagement”.

The response from management was dismissive—and so “the encampment voted for escalation” “We held a rally and a picket outside of the university administration offices and have since got a meeting with the principal” he said. 

Term ended at Aberdeen university last Friday, but the encampment is still going. “We have been able to sustain ourselves pretty well,” he said. “At first we were just planning the next few days, now plans for escalation are being made two weeks at a time.”

There are student encampments for Gaza in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Leeds, Sheffield, Leicester, Cambridge, Lancaster, Manchester, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Bangor, Birmingham, Oxford, Swansea, Bristol, Soas, UCL, Kent, Nottingham, Lincoln, KCL, Queen Mary, Sussex, Cardiff, Exeter, Warwick, LSE, York, Portsmouth and Imperial College. 

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