By Thomas Foster
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2906

Student encampments for Palestine debate how to win

Students from Palestine encampments marched together on the Nakba 76 demo in London on Saturday
Issue 2906
A crowd shot of the student encampments bloc on the Palestine demo in London

The student encampments bloc on the Nakba demonstration in London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Students at Palestine encampments across Britain are determined to escalate until their demands are met. As of Sunday night, there were 30 encampments fighting against their universities holding investments in companies complicit in Israeli apartheid and genocide. 

A student involved in the Soas encampment slammed British universities, saying, “Our universities are complicit—and complicity is criminal. Our institutions have blood on their hands. I struggle to grapple with how our university continues to invest in companies involved in Israel’s genocide.”

He added, “None of this is normal and all of this must be challenged in its entirety. We will not stop. We will continue, today, tomorrow and every other day until our universities divest and Palestine is free.”

A student who’s been at the nearby UCL encampment, said, “The encampments are holding our institutions to account. We are weeks into the UCL encampment and everyone is united with the Palestinian people and against UCL management.” 

He argued that the student movement is transforming campus life, saying, “Our movement is reshaping our universities. Every time we occupy, we take over public squares with cries of liberation. 

“We are attacking the racism and colonialism that props us Israel today.” He added, “As students we must lead the anti-imperialist revolution. We are the generation that will see the liberation of Palestine.”

The Soas student agreed, arguing the student movement is “an extension of the global struggle against the imperial core”.

Students are taking action at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Leeds, Sheffield, Leicester, Cambridge, Lancaster, Manchester, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Bangor in north Wales, Birmingham, Oxford, Swansea, Bristol, Kent, Nottingham, Lincoln, KCL, LSE, Soas, UCL and QM in London, Sussex, Cardiff, Exeter, Warwick and York.

Pebble, a student at the Soas university encampment, told Socialist Worker, “So far the management has been silent so we’ve been ramping things up. We did a die-in in Tottenham Court Road blocking all traffic, and a ‘letter drop’ where we covered the two main university buildings with letters of our demands.”

Pebbles said there are debates happening in the encampment over what’s the best strategy to maintain momentum and “building a movement for the future”. “It’s a huge student movement,” Pebbles explained. 

“We need to think about how to continue it when we return to university in September, as it’s getting close to the end of the academic year.” 

Escalation can work. At Cambridge university, around 20 activists expanded the encampment to a second location last Wednesday. On the same day, university management stopped ignoring the students and agreed to meet to negotiate about divestments.

And so students at the Oxford encampment have followed suit. On Sunday, students set up a second encampment at a different location in the city centre.

Dylan, a student supporting the encampment, said, “Cambridge students expanded their encampment and almost immediately after, management agreed to meet with them. It shows that enlarging and escalating can lead to negotiations.”

Dylan said the lesson to draw from Cambridge is that “the plan should be to keep escalating before the summer holidays”. “We need to keep the encampments growing. We need to escalate to the point where things are unbearable for the university administration.”

He said another form of escalation students have been taking is disrupting graduation ceremonies.“Students carried out a die-in at the entrance to a building where a graduation ceremony was happening,” he said. “It shows students have a defiant attitude. Ignore us and we will escalate.”

Issy, a student from the Leeds university encampment, said that the “students have been doing small bits of escalation”. “We disrupted a careers fair and it was after that management started an email dialogue with us,” she said. 

She said there are “lots of debates in the encampment on how to move forward—on the forms of escalation as well as the timings of the escalation”.

Issy said she thinks “we should stay over the summer” but “would like to see what the national consensus is”. For students to win, she said, “It needs to come from a national place. If all students and workers unite to work together—that’s how we can win.”

Autumn, a student from Lancaster, said, “The encampment has grown and has had two man expansions. We are having more and more tents.”

The Lancaster encampment is also “discussing potential escalations”. “We are having general meetings in the morning and the evening to discuss our plans. We openly discuss our strategy,” said Autumn. “We have a very democratic system to decide and debate the best course of action.” 

They added, “We have people just coming along and joining. We make it clear that the encampment is open to anyone.”

Dylan echoed this, saying, “The encampment hasn’t put out calls for people to join. People pass by and ask to get signed on and join. On Instagram, every day they post a daily schedule and advertise what’s happening at the encampment. That helps to drag people onto their feet and get involved.”

And university administrations in some instances are trying to repress the encampments. At Nottingham university, the university administration spent £19,500 on legal fees to try and evict the encampment.

But the students fought the case in court and won, meaning the eviction notice was thrown out. Students at the encampment posted on social media that they will continue to “organise to resist the attempts of British universities to escape accountability”.

In Lancaster university on Thursday, students at the encampment went to do a banner drop and a one minute speech to management calling out their complicity. But “security began physically pushing, grabbing and scratching us”. It left “individuals with bruises, carpet burns, cuts and broken clothing,” according to a statement put out by the encampment.

Autumn said that, in response to this repression, students were defiant and “ramped things up”.“What was supposed to be a banner drop on Thursday became a full-on building occupation,” they said. 

“Our plan is to take that momentum and build on it. We will find new ways to get through to management.” 

A staff member at Birmingham university spoke about the defiance of the students against the university administration’s intimidation. 

He said, “The university threatened students that they were aggressively trespassing and tried to give students a dispersion order. And the administration has turned off electricity in the surrounding area so they can’t charge anything. 

“But students have been defiant. The encampment isn’t stopping but growing every day”.

A student at Soas added, “We will not be intimidated by the police when we are calling for the right for Palestinians to exist and resist. 

“We will not be intimidated by any university or public body or elected official. We aren’t stopping until Palestine is liberated.”

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