Students stage pro-Palestine occupations at five more UK universities

<span>Students at the University of Oxford set up an encampment in support of Palestinians in Gaza.</span><span>Photograph: Hollie Adams/Reuters</span>
Students at the University of Oxford set up an encampment in support of Palestinians in Gaza.Photograph: Hollie Adams/Reuters

Students at five UK universities have become the latest protesters to stage occupations to pressure their institutions into divesting funds from and ending partnerships with Israel.

Students set up encampments at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) and at Oxford, Cambridge, Liverpool and Edinburgh universities. They are the latest in a global student uprising that is expected to build over the coming week across European campuses after starting at universities in the US, where hundreds of students and staff have been arrested for their involvement.

A joint statement from the organisers Oxford Action for Palestine and Cambridge for Palestine read: “Over 100 universities across the globe have now taken bold and urgent action for Palestine. As members of these institutions, we refuse to accept our universities’ complicity in Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people – and we refuse to stand by while they justify Israel’s campaign of mass slaughter, starvation, and displacement.”

The protesters at Oxford and Cambridge arrived on Monday morning with supplies, sleeping bags and cardboard signs bearing hand-painted slogans that stated: “There are no universities left in Gaza” and “Divest from genocide”. A large banner, reading “Welcome to the people’s university for Palestine”, was put up outside the encampment in front of the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford.

They have also demanded that Oxford and Cambridge universities divest from all companies linked to Israeli genocide and occupation, help rebuild Gaza’s education system, end institutional relationships with Israeli universities and protect the safety of students and staff involved in pro-Palestinian action.

More than 170 Oxford faculty and staff members signed a letter in support of the encampment and its aims.

Sneha Krishnan, an associate professor in human geography at the university, said it was “scandalous” that universities had not openly condemned Israel’s actions. “I strongly believe that students everywhere in the world are leading us in an important moral struggle at this moment,” she said.

Ana, a second-year undergraduate involved in the encampment at Oxford, said there was an “optimistic” atmosphere, with students working on essays alongside attending workshops. “It’s time for more than protests that happen every two weeks,” she said. “It’s time for us to be here … in place until the university accepts our demands.”

A third-year student at Oxford said the encampment would remain for “as long as it takes”, adding: “We have no fear of continuing to escalate until these demands are met.”

At the encampment on King’s Parade, Cambridge, events included deescalation training for protesters, a rally and a dinner funded by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. A crowdfunding campaign raised nearly £6,000 for the “vital supplies that will be necessary if our encampment is to be prolonged, persistent, and effective”.

Other universities involved in action so far include University College London, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Warwick, Swansea, Goldsmiths and Bristol in the UK; as well as Sciences Po in France, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

A final year student representative of Manchester Camp of Resistance for Palestine, said camps were “popping up all across the country”, including at Liverpool on Monday, with organisers sharing knowledge and experiences. “No camps have closed over the past few days,” she noted.

Earlier in the week, Goldsmiths bowed to pressure from student occupiers and agreed to a new ethical investment policy, including considering switching fund manager; to write to the government urging it to call for a ceasefire; and to fund an undergraduate Palestinian scholarship.

A University of Oxford spokesperson said: “We respect our students and staff members’ right to freedom of expression in the form of peaceful protests. We ask everyone who is taking part to do so with respect, courtesy and empathy.”

A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “The university is fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and we acknowledge the right to protest. We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with understanding and empathy. Our priority is the safety of all staff and students.

“We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia and any other form of racial or religious hatred, or other unlawful activity.”