Room occupation for Gaza

A number of Warwick students are currently occupying a room on campus to show solidarity with the victims of Gaza and to demand the University stop doing business with certain companies.

Since last Wednesday, a group of students have been holding at sit-in in S0.21 in the Social Studies building. They have issued a press release explaining their motives and their demands. They demand that Warwick “suspend all relations with companies which supply the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” that Warwick release a statement expressing “its sorrow for the infringement of the right to education in the Gaza conflict,” that it donate old books and equipment to universities in Gaza, that it supports a lecture series on the conflict and, finally, that no action be taken against any of the participants.

They claim they will not leave the room until these demands have been met. “We think the demands are very reasonable,” explained one of the organisers, Chris Rossdale, currently doing his Masters. When asked how long they would be willing to wait he said, “as long as the people in there want it to.”

“A few want to stay as long as possible,” Rossdale added.

The University has yet to respond directly. There is, however, security personnel outside the room at all times and all lectures which were to be held in S0.21 were relocated. “We will continue to monitor the situation,” said Peter Dunn, University spokesperson.

The Students’ Union has offered to act as mediators between the students and the University. The SU cannot officially support the students as the Union does not have a policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The “SU needs to remain fairly neutral,” said Andy Glyde, Governance and Finance Officer.

Acting independently of any society the group plans to maintain a constant presence in the room. However, as they want to focus on and encourage education both in Palestine and in Warwick, they do not plan to upset lectures.

The group decided to have a continuous “symbolic presence” which would mean that a small number of participants would stay in the room while the others would leave when lectures were held. The banners put up around the room were to stay. In order to explain their actions, one of the members would give a speech before the lecture began.

As aforementioned, though, there were no lectures the following day, Thursday, or on Friday. The participants emphasised that moving lectures had not been their idea but that the University had done it on their own initiative.

There is, however, a Union policy which covers the arms trade and companies like BAE, which is explicitly mentioned. In Policy 494 the Union resolved to “give full support to students protesting against arms companies on campus.”

The sit-in is seen to have a political motivation, though, something the Union views as “a sensitive issue.” Mohammed Surve, Education Officer, said that the Union’s role is “to allow people on both sides to express their opinions.” He explained that the while the protesters’ are focussing on Warwick’s relationship to arms companies, Policy 494 says “that killing is wrong…rather than what Israel is doing is wrong.”

“Interpretation can vary,” he added. Despite the sit-in being “technically along humanitarian lines,” he said the Union cannot do more than act as mediators.

There “would have to be a policy,” explained Mike Pidgeon, Communications Officer. He said that there is the possibility of arranging emergency General Meetings. To do this at least 0.5 per cent of SU members, approximately 100 students, are needed. Pidgeon said the option is “on the table.”

Pidgeon said that he was glad the room occupation had been done in a “non-disruptive way,” which had been their “biggest concern.”

The participants “have built up a lot of respect for themselves” in being non-violent added Surve.

The students participating want “to make sure our dedication to both Israeli and Palestinian victims is clear.”

The reactions from other students have been mixed but mostly positive. “Its a bit of an inconvenience that they are using the room but its cool to have some political action here,” said one second year student.

“Its stupid…what a waste,” said one finalist whose lectures had been moved. He added, “I thought they said they were campaigning for education. What about my education?” Most students thought that the lectures had been moved by the students in S0.21 and not by the University.

Universities across the UK have been staging similar occupations which started with SOAS over a week ago. Room occupations in solidarity for the victims of Gaza spread to 15 other universities. In addition to Warwick, which was the first Russell Group universities, there are or have been occupations in LSE, King’s College London, Oxford, Sussex, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Essex, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Salford, Kingston, Bristol and Nottingham.

The students occupying rooms at these universities have issued similar demands to those made at Warwick. The SOAS occupation came to an end when their University agreed to meet their demands. Essex, after about two days, also met many of the demands. After less than half a day participants in the sit-in at Oxford University were able to claim victory. At LSE the students succeeded in some of their demands after a week of room occupation.

The sit-in at Birmingham University came to an end after just 12 hours when the participants were forced to leave due to the University’s threats that they would be “in breach of the peace” if they remained. Police personnel and riot vans The heavy police and security presence “[proved] that The University of Birmingham was prepared to use such an extreme level of force against its students conducting a peaceful protest.”

Speakers from both Warwick and outside the University have been giving talks to the occupants. This included Yael Kahn, an Israeli soldier who turned activist when she “realised what was happening to the Palestinians.” She gave a talk on the current situation in Gaza and the factors leading up to it.

When describing how many trucks of supplies were being let into Gaza in the weeks leading up to the Israeli invasion on 27 December 2008, she claimed that “even if [the supplies were] all food you will find that it was not more than the Nazis gave the Jews in concentration camps.”

Other speakers include a student from SOAS who came to speak on their occuption, representatives from the International Solidarity Movement and Jews for Justice for Palestine.

In addition, the group has received many messages of support from other universities, former Warwick students and lecturers from Warwick and other universities. Tony Benn, a former Labour MP and leading socialist, and Noam Chomsky, a famous academic and author, have also written in messages of support for the Warwick students.

After they had first taken the room those present, about 20 people, decided on a set of ground rules, which included defining the occupation as a “peaceful protest” which would “respect the space [and] people” in the words of Sami Wannell, the unofficial chair of this discussion.

A consensus was reached after some debate as to how to organise the participants, how to deal with security and the press release.

Since then the number of students who have joined, either for a short while or for the whole night has topped 100. At the time of going to print those participating had no intention of leaving before their demands were met and were waiting on the University’s response.


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