Image: Martin Day / The Boar

“We’re more determined than ever”: Warwick Stands With Palestine continues piazza encampment

As student protests for Gaza spread across universities globally, The Boar spoke to two organisers of Warwick’s encampment protest by Warwick Stands With Palestine that has occupied the piazza since the early hours of last Friday morning.

As of 5 May, the group had raised over £4,600 as part of a fundraiser for “food and equipment” needed to sustain the encampment, including donations under the name of incoming SU President Enaya Nihal, and an anonymous donation of £500. They have committed to donating any unused funds to the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Elsewhere on campus, Warwick Student-Staff Solidarity Network activists disrupted offer-holder day talks condemning the university’s ties to Israel in front of prospective students and their parents.

Two masked leaders of the demonstration agreed to speak to The Boar. Characterising Friday’s rally as “incredibly successful”, Warwick Stands With Palestine organisers appeared energised by the support from the student body and wider community. “With half a day’s notice, we managed to rally almost 300 people from the student community, staff community, and the local community, people coming from Coventry, from Birmingham, people coming from all around to support us”. The Boar estimated turnout to be closer to about 150 participants at the demonstration’s peak.

“We’ve had some really good conversations with lots of Warwick societies that want to sign on to the coalition, and also just good messages with local organising groups,” the student added.

The Warwick Stands With Palestine coalition have […] called upon the University of Warwick to release a statement condemning the “never-ending livestream” of “brutality and war crimes” in Gaza

The group set out their demands to The Boar, describing themselves as “predominantly focused on Warwick’s ties with arms manufacturers and defence contractors”. One of the protesters established that their main demand was “the complete divestment of all companies and institutions” supporting what they saw as a “genocide in Gaza by the Israeli regime”. In particular, the protester highlighted teaching and academic partnerships “within WMG, within engineering […] worth millions and millions of pounds”.

The Warwick Stands With Palestine coalition has also called upon the University of Warwick to release a statement condemning the “never-ending livestream” of “brutality and war crimes” in Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attacks and to call for an “immediate, permanent, and unconditional” ceasefire.

The coalition’s third and fourth demands pertain to “pledging to assist the rebuilding of Gaza’s educational infrastructure,” and the “protection of free speech and the right to protest” on campus respectively.

As more universities get on board, the tide will turn

Piazza demonstrator

When challenged on whether they believed their demands were realistic, the organisers were optimistic. They highlighted the University of York’s divestment from arms companies linked to Israel following months of student protests. “I think universities are starting to take up the call […] as more universities get on board, the tide will turn.”

In a statement on their Instagram on Friday, the University of Warwick commented: “We’re aware of an ongoing demonstration in the Piazza by Warwick Stands With Palestine – a coalition of student and staff organisations. We’re speaking with the demonstration’s organisers.”

However, at the time, the organisers claimed that conversations with the University administration had been “non-existent – they decided to release a statement saying they’re in contact […] That’s not true.”

“We would love to be in contact with them, we would love to have a meeting on our demands,” another demonstrator added.

In a later Instagram post on 4 May, the group claimed that University management had refused to meet with them until the 22nd, and slammed this timeline as “completely unacceptable”.

“Every day of delay means complicity,” the statement read. “We demand that management meet with us immediately.”

We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with kindness and empathy

Warwick University statement

In their statement, the University of Warwick added: “Freedom of speech is a vital component of University life. As a community, we respect the views of others, even if they are different to our own. We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with kindness and empathy.”

The piazza demonstrators did not seem daunted by the hundreds of arrests at protests across US universities this week. One maintained: “We do not feel under the threat of imminent arrest. The support from the community has been amazing, and we feel strengthened by the unity and by their support. We’re more determined than ever.”

Although Warwick is believed to be the first encampment for Gaza at a UK university, both students were keen to credit the efforts of other pro-Palestinian groups across the UK and globally. “Universities in London have been occupied for hundreds of days at this point,” one of the demonstrators pointed out. Encampments have also been launched at other UK universities this week, including at Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Oxford, and Cambridge.

On antisemitism, the organisers claimed to be taking a “very vigilant” approach towards discrimination within the encampment and highlighted the support they’d received from some Jewish students. They also emphasised their rejection of the “conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism,” and simultaneously their “standing against antisemitism and Zionism”.

Language and symbols used in these protests far too often crosses the line into promoting hatred and violence, as has happened this weekend on campus

Warwick JSoc statement

A statement given to The Boar by Warwick Jewish Society (JSoc) criticised some of the protesters’ rhetoric. “The recent occupation of the Piazza by demonstrators has been deeply troubling for Jewish students and others on campus. JSoc respects the right of all students to protest, march, and express support for causes they believe in. This undeniably extends to pro-Palestinian students.

“However, the language and symbols used in these protests far too often crosses the line into promoting hatred and violence, as has happened this weekend on campus. Throughout the protest on Friday, various slogans were chanted and written on signs, such as protesters calling for an ‘intifada until victory,’ a reference to periods of violent terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

“Jewish students on campus feel intimidated and unsafe when masked protesters chant references to terrorist attacks. This also deters prospective Jewish students, whose experience of Warwick has been dominated by these protests. The stated intention to create a Columbia-style occupation, where US protesters have called for the destruction of Tel Aviv, told Jewish students to “go back to Poland,” and openly supported Hamas’ October 7th terror attacks, is deeply concerning.

The statement concluded: “JSoc stands firmly against all forms of hatred including antisemitism and Islamophobia. We encourage all students that experience antisemitism to reach out to JSoc, as we can support you both with reporting and with signposting to specialised welfare support.”

We’re determined to do this as long as we possibly can

Piazza demonstrator

For now, when asked about the long-term outlook for the protest, the demonstrators appeared committed: “We’ve been energised in support to such a great extent that we feel able to carry on. I can’t say for how long, but we’re determined to do this as long as we possibly can.”

A Boar reporter noted Sunday that guy lines for the demonstrators’ tents, previously held in place by stacks of bricks, had now been secured with pegs driven into the piazza floor — a microcosm, perhaps, of the group’s determination to stick it out for the long-haul.

Report and Support services for students can be accessed here.

Read Warwick Stands With Palestine’s Constitution here.

Comments (2)

  • PATRICIA Hodges

    I appreciate your right to express your views and sincerity in your aspirations. but…… what about the cruel and unthinking way that animals are being treated in Gaza? Look at the dreadful abuse of ‘working’ horses and donkeys, the terror for cats and dogs and the starvation of zoo animals. War causes this in the broader sense, but why do Palestinian men have to be so barabaric?

  • Good luck with your protest. Please remain inclusive and expel anyone calling for the destruction of Israel. Can you publish what you know about the University’s ties to Israel and arms manufacturers. I think that would be a really useful focus for media covering this – put the spotlight on the University rather than just the student protest

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