Pro-Palestinian campus protests spread to UK universities

AFP , Wednesday 8 May 2024

The grass outside SOAS University of London has been dotted with a handful of tents since the start of this week, with Palestinian flags and slogans calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

SOAS Gaza protests
Students hold placards and chant slogans during a gathering at a pro-Palestinian camp set up on the campus of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, on May 8, 2024. AFP


There are similar sites at universities across Britain, and so far the protests have been peaceful and left alone by the police, unlike in the United States, France and other countries.

Students, many of whom were masked, sat in a circle on a blue tarpaulin to take part in what they called a "teach-in" while others took stock of groceries and supplies piled up inside the shelters.

At SOAS, former student Yara, 23, estimated that more than 20 students were taking part -- with about a dozen other encampments at universities elsewhere in the UK, following protests on US campuses in April.

The aim, she told AFP, was to "apply pressure on the SOAS administration to adhere to the demands of the students".

That includes disclosing links to and divesting from all companies complicit in what she said was "Israel's illegal settlement economy and arms trade".


Warwick University in Coventry, central England, kicked off first with a "Gaza solidarity encampment" on April 26.

Tents then sprang up outside universities in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge and Oxford.

At Edinburgh, a group of students began a hunger strike to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. In Cambridge, orange tents were lined up neatly outside King's College, which dates back to 1441.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 34,844 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The SOAS students were given support on Wednesday by Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran left-winger who led the main opposition Labour party from 2015 to 2020.

Corbyn said the university should "recognise that students have strong, legitimate, valid opinions".

"They shouldn't be closing down protests. They should be recognising the very strong humanitarian views of young people all across this country," he said while attending a rally at the camp.

'As long as it takes'

Yara, who has been at the camp since it sprung up three days ago, said the student protesters were planning to "stay for as long as it takes" for SOAS, which specialises in Africa, Asia and Middle East studies, to accept their demands.

"The first night was really rainy and wet and muddy," she said.

"But honestly, no matter how much discomfort students may feel camping out, it's actually just a fraction of the conditions in which the Palestinians in Gaza have been experiencing."

Having previously only attended the protests, where dozens more students gathered, one 19-year-old SOAS student who studies global development and law said they planned to join the camp this weekend.

"I don't think I can wait until my degree's over because people are dying. So being in encampments is as useful as I can be," said the student, who did not wish to be named.

"I just said I'd be here because they need people. And I am people."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

Short link: