Students pose as corpses to protest rising Gaza death toll

A “theatrical protest” was staged in the Library courtyard on Friday to draw attention to the death toll in Palestine, which surpassed 1000 the day before.

Five second year students lay down in the centre of the pathway outside the Library Café and IT rooms wrapped in white sheets splattered with red paint, imitating the images of civilian casualties broadcast from Gaza in recent weeks.

The group covered the courtyard with chalk writing, which said, “1033 dead in 20 Days, 5131 Injured, Gaza, 335 Children killed.”

In addition, there were chalk outlines of further bodies next to them, including some smaller, child-sized ones. Each chalk outline had a number representing its place in the rising death toll. Almost all passers-by were taken aback by the sight of the “dead bodies”.

The protest was organised independently by a group of students all connected to the theatre. The five participants, Caitlin McLead, Tanya Wells, Helena Miscioscia, Cara Verkerk and Lydia Rynne viewed the event as a performance protest.

Cara Verkerk, said, “We were specifically trying to draw attention to the children [killed in the conflict].” They counted up to 1033 and back aloud as they remained otherwise motionless under the sheets.

Verkerk explained, “The main thing we wanted to show was the numbers [that’s why] we were counting up.”

Lydia Rynne described it as an emotional experience, saying, “I was thinking about my breathing and thinking about the other bodies really lying there that aren’t breathing anymore.”

Rynne said that as universities had been bombed, it was even more relevant to students; “[The protest] was forcing people to take notice. If people get flyers, they just throw them away, while with this they had to literally step over us.”

The protest lasted about 35 minutes, before security came and told the other group members who were standing by watching, to “raise the dead.”

The security official present said, “Everyone has the right to carry out events[…]as long as they are preauthorised.” He explained, “there has been one complaint, that’s why we reacted.”

Peter Dunn, University spokesperson said, “somebody inside the Café Library made the complaint because they thought it was inappropriate while they were eating.”

He added, “A protest took place, the protesters were able to have protest, while the person in the cafe was able to have their interests protected and security reconciled the two.”

The protest began at around midday on Friday, and the group had hoped to remain there until one in the afternoon, when many students cross the courtyard to get to their next lecture.

Despite ending early, the girls felt the protest was a success. “It went really well, while we were writing in chalk people were stopping to read it. People were asking questions and starting debates,” said Tanya Wells.

One second year student, Henri M, described it as “shocking”, adding “I stayed there for ten minutes just staring”.

Max Brager, a third year Engineering student, said that the first time he saw the girls in the process of setting up and thought “it didn’t get much impact on people” as few were stopping, but when the ‘bodies’ had laid down “it [was] scary…the bodies made it more personal.”

Caitlin McLead said the girls had no plans to recreate the event, “If we were going to do another protest about Gaza it would be in a different from[…]getting people to look at it from different angles through theatre.”

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