Students at nineteen UK universities have staged sit-in protests against the continuing violence between Palestine and Israel. The sit-ins began at The School of Oriental and African Studies and spread across the city to King’s College and the London School of Economics before reaching at least sixteen other universities in the country, including Nottingham.
Students used the Internet to their full advantage, using social networking sites and blogs to supply up-to-the-minute information and rally support. Generally, the demands of the nineteen groups have corresponded: firstly requesting a statement from university authorities condemning the bombing of Gaza, with additional requests including a cease of contact with companies involved in the supply of equipment to Israel and donations of books and computers to students from Gaza. In addition, many of the groups have asked that their own universities provide full scholarships for students whose own institutions have been destroyed by attacks in the area.
University of Nottingham students staged their protest, which began on the evening of Wednesday 28th January, in lecture hall B62 in the Law and Social Sciences building. At times there were over a hundred students involved in the event, armed with sleeping bags, banners, flags and food supplies, which were donated by local food shops in Lenton in support of their cause. In addition to the above demands, the Nottingham group requested that an alternative podcast be broadcast on the University Portal to address “the bias of the one already posted” on January 15th, and that the vending of Starbucks coffee cease in the Hallward library.
One of the protesters, Hicham Yezza, explained that their objective was to clarify that the students of Nottingham are not oblivious to the sufferings of the Gazan people. Yezza also stated that “the protest was intended to be friendly and peaceful and not disruptive. We always intended for the lecture theatre to remain available for scheduled lectures.” Despite this intention the University decided to cancel or reschedule all lectures from Thursday 29th January. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Greenaway, issued a statement which “staunchly defended” the right of students to protest, but concluded that those involved with the occupation “do not have a right to disrupt the normal functioning of this University and the education of other students.”
Not only has the Nottingham demonstration attracted media attention from the BBC, ITV and numerous websites, but high-profile figures have shown their support. Noam Chomsky sent a message of solidarity to the students commending their “courageous and honourable” actions.
On the evening of 1st February, University authorities entered LASS B62 and reiterated a statement ordering the students to leave immediately. Upon the refusal of some, security guards evicted the students from the building. Students allege that their cameras were seized to prevent the eviction from being filmed and some students have reported sustaining injuries, verified by medical professionals. Those involved with the protest – which lasted four nights in total – may face disciplinary repercussions. These students have expressed their unhappiness with the way in which they were treated and believe that the University acted in a manner that was “not professional or reasonable”.
Following the recent eviction, a new campaign, ‘Books not Bombs’, has formed in order to pursue the aim of providing scholarships to Gazan students and sending educational equipment to Gaza. The launch rally was attended by over 150 people, including Alan Simpson MP, who gave a short speech of support for the campaign outside the Hallward library. Hicham Yezza argued that, “The situation in Gaza is so catastrophic that any help is welcome.” A University spokesperson said that, “The University has a long track record of helping Palestinian students and helping education in Gaza.”