Campus protests over Israel's Gaza war hit Australia

AFP , Friday 3 May 2024

Hundreds of supporters of pro-Palestinian students demonstrated at a Sydney university Friday, bringing echoes of US college protests and Israel's war on Gaza to a campus and continent on the other side of the world.

Members of the Australian Palestinian community shout slogans at the Palestinian Protest Campsite at University of Sydney in Sydney on May 3, 2024. AFP


Rival demonstrators came eye-to-eye shouting slogans and waving flags. Still, except for a few heated exchanges, the protest and counterprotest passed off peacefully.

But it was another sign that the Israeli war on Gaza, approaching its seventh month, and the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza are roiling politics oceans away.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have been camped for 10 days on a green lawn in front of the University of Sydney's sprawling Gothic sandstone edifice -- a bastion of Australian academia.

The dozens of tents festooned with banners and Palestinian flags have become a focal point for hundreds of protesters -- students and otherwise -- who oppose Israel's ground invasion and bombardment of Gaza.

Deaglan Godwin, a 24-year-old arts and science student and one of the camp's organisers, said US protests were both an inspiration and a warning.

New York's Columbia University, the scene of police crackdowns and mass arrests, inspired "us to set up our own camp", Godwin said.

He said Columbia is "also now a warning, a warning that the government is willing to use quite lethal, brutal force in order to put down Palestinian protesters".

Similar to their US counterparts, the protesters want to see Sydney University cut ties with Israeli institutions and reject funding from arms companies.

Sydney University administrators are keen not to replicate the US experience.

Vice-chancellor Mark Scott has written to students and staff expressing a "commitment to freedom of expression" and has not called on the police to dismantle the camp.

Australian police were notably absent even during Friday's protests, which brought about 100 pro-Israel counterprotesters face-to-face with 400 demonstrators at the pro-Palestinian camp.

Public order and riot squad vehicles were parked well out of view, on the periphery of the campus.

Security was left to university guards who formed a separating barrier between the opposing camps.

A few inquisitive Chinese students stopped to take a look on the edges of the demonstration, while the media surveyed the scene and a right-wing vlogger hunted for any hint of confrontation or violence.

Against that backdrop, more than a hundred Jewish and pro-Israeli protesters decided to march near the pro-Palestinian encampment Friday.

A small group of counterprotesters donned tefillin -- the black leather boxes and straps usually worn during Jewish prayer that have come to signify more orthodox and conservative views.

Another group of students wearing keffiyeh scarves linked arms in a circle and danced the Dabkeh -- a Levantine dance popular at weddings.

When the groups came together a few from each camp confronted each other and traded slogans, but the tension was quickly defused.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

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