Image: The Boar News / Oliver Toms

Warwick and Palestine: The Importance of On-Campus Advocacy 

The magnitude of destruction in Gaza is hard to overstate; 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, whilst 1.7 million have found themselves displaced from their homes (Source: OCHA). Every one of Gaza’s twelve universities has been either severely damaged or destroyed, and two-thirds of hospitals have been forced to shut down due to the Israeli offensive. In these circumstances, which will leave Gaza uninhabitable for millions, it is more important than ever that voices for peace, justice and liberation are not suppressed.  

It is more important than ever that voices for peace, justice and liberation are not suppressed

Throughout history, universities have been a bastion of freedom of expression. In times of war or conflict, this has more often than not been conveyed through protests condemning injustices and atrocities around the world. It is thus natural that students and staff alike take a stand against states and other institutions for their support of what many deem to be a genocide in the making. Hence, after countless encampments were set up in colleges around the United States calling for divestments from institutions connected to Israel, Warwick followed suit, along with a procession of British universities. Unlike the case of American colleges, where pro-Palestinian groups have faced persistent suppression from law enforcement, often leading to violence and mass arrests, instances of violence have been few and far between in the UK. 

From the civil rights protests at historically black colleges in the early 20th century to the events of May ‘68 in Europe and the anti-Vietnam War campaigns of the 60s and 70s, the phenomenon of student protests is nothing new. When placed in this context, it is clear that Warwick’s encampment is simply part of the latest addition to the longstanding tradition of students fighting for liberation. In the past, such protests have often been faced with hostility from the state apparatus and other institutions. Thus, the challenges faced by American students are nothing new either.  

On the other hand, one can also note the success of such protests in the past. The protests against the Vietnam War, for example, achieved their goal of ending military conscription in the United States and were one of the main factors in the eventual withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. More recently, student protests led the University of Turin in Italy to choose to opt out of a joint program with Israeli universities for ‘dual use’ technology. But Warwick University does not only represent a platform for healthy debate and challenging global injustices. To the contrary, Warwick’s ties to the arms-manufacturing industry have been extensively documented, as is shown in Archie Clarke’s article forThe Boar from February. The WMG’s Integrated Graduate Development Scheme (IGDS), inaugurated in 1980, was almost entirely funded by a cluster of companies heavily involved in the production of military aircraft, including Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace (later renamed BAE Systems) among others. Both companies have since enjoyed a close relationship with the WMG, exerting considerable influence over its postgraduate courses. The NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade named both Rolls Royce and BAE among the companies profiting from the war in Gaza. As such, it is easy to understand the claims made by students and staff members at the encampment that Warwick is in some way embroiled in the ongoing onslaught on Gaza. Protesters, along with many other students and faculty members, will hope that the recent announcement of a vote on the University’s demilitarisation held by the Warwick University Council will mark the end of these dangerous ties. 

We spoke to a representative of the ‘Warwick Stands With Palestine’ coalition, who explained the nature of the group’s activism in the current national and international context. The group has drawn inspiration and strategies from other global pro-Palestinian movements, utilising various tactics to pressure the University to condemn Israel’s actions and break ties with the arms industry. The movement has continued to expand, now relocating to the grass field outside the FAB, while tensions with the University have continued to rise.  

The University has contracted a private security firm, SNSG, which according to the coalition, has created an intimidating atmosphere described by the WSWP representative as “paramilitary-esque” and “authoritarian”. The group also claims that SNSG has obstructed protesters’ mobility around campus by restricting entrances to certain buildings. Despite this, the movement has garnered significant support from the campus community, uniting over 50 student and staff organisations. They also underline the important role played by faculty members in providing consistent support and participating actively in protests. The encampment aims to build political consciousness and long-term organisation, seeking to highlight the campus as a frontline in the broader struggle against “Zionism and imperialism”.  

Seeking to highlight the campus as a frontline in the broader struggle against Zionism and imperialism

Since the outbreak of the recent conflict in Gaza, Jewish communities around the world have expressed worry at a potential rise in antisemitism. Warwick’s Jewish Society (JSoc) have raised these concerns to us, specifically regarding the Palestinian movement on campus. Many Jewish students view slogans such as “Intifada until victory” as problematic, as the term ‘intifada’ can be seen as a reference to the first and second intifada in which large numbers of Israelis died in terror attacks. JSoc also argued that the presence of masked protestors, often shouting slogans that they view as antisemitic, has created an intimidating environment for both current and prospective Jewish students.  

We also spoke to a member of the Kehillah group, a Jewish Pro-Palestinian group, which has joined the coalition, who asserted that members of his community have not experienced antisemitism from within the movement, though it is important to recognise that Kehillah represents only a small part of the Jewish community on campus. They also stated that such accusations tend to conflate anti-Zionist sentiments with antisemitic ones. The newly founded group has described itself as both a community and advocacy group. Among its activities is a weekly Shabbat service, held at the encampment, featuring a range of socialist and pacifist songs, as well as psalms and songs from the Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions. This includes “A Jewish Prayer for Nakba Day”, referring to the 1948 forceful expulsion of Palestinians from modern-day Israel. The organisation, which has also held cultural and cooking events, aims to produce an understanding of Judaism which is not tied to Israel – “Jewish people have been around for thousands of years, Israel has only existed for 76”.   

We also spoke to a representative of the Bass Society which, along with Warwick Snow, recently organised a barbecue fundraising for Gazan refugees. The event aimed to provide an alternative space to the Eurovision screening in the Piazza, which was cancelled shortly after, with the University citing safety concerns. They explained the fundraising process to us – £320 was raised through a raffle, with an additional £80 coming from donations from those who could not attend. This money was raised for refugees at Deir al Balah camp in central Gaza, through a friend of the Society whose family is currently in the Gaza Strip. They also stated that the event was not meant to be political, emphasising its humanitarian aspect: “there’s nothing political about raising money for charity”. 

In light of the brutal war in Gaza, the WSWP coalition exemplifies an important stand against oppression and injustice

In light of the brutal war in Gaza, the WSWP coalition exemplifies an important stand against oppression and injustice. Student advocacy must be protected on campus, and we should be wary of attempts to silence voices for peace and liberation. Encouraging open dialogue and fostering an inclusive environment that respects diverse perspectives are essential in ensuring that the campus remains a space where all voices can be heard and valued. Ultimately, by standing together in solidarity, protesters can make a meaningful contribution to the broader global movement for justice in Gaza. As students and staff unite to call for cutting ties to the arms industry, it is crucial to support these efforts while maintaining a firm stance against any form of antisemitism or bigotry. 

Comments (1)

  • Excellent article. Enlightened and balanced. I find the loss of life, livelihood and access to basic necessities of food, shelter and healthcare that the people in Gaza are experiencing as a result of Israeli military actions very concerning. It is important to support all people to feel safe in opposing such actions and I love this article’s ambition to achieve this.

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