UK students launch five pro-Palestinian university camps as Gaza protests spread

Students at five elite UK universities set up pro-Palestinian encampments on Wednesday as international protests over Israel’s war on Gaza continued to spread.

Encampments were launched by students at Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield universities – all part of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of higher education institutions, with more schools expected to join the burgeoning movement.

Pro-Palestinian encampments and protests have already hit universities across the world, including Columbia in the US, the Sorbonne in France, the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, Sydney in Australia, and University College London and Warwick in Britain.

“My message for the people of Gaza is… we’re still fighting, we’re not giving up,” Sophie Smart, 18, an undergraduate biology student at the University of Sheffield, told The New Arab.

“We’re here for you. Everyone’s on your side. The world is on Gaza’s side. And we will free Palestine.”

Along with dozens of others, Smart attended a rally that took place as tents were set up at her university. She said she was considering camping out.

The encampment is led by the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP), a group of students, staff, and alumni at Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities, which are located in the same northern English city.

Demands for divestment

SCCP is asking the University of Sheffield to comply with three demands in order to end the encampment: divestment from weapons manufacturing, the ending of all ties with Israeli universities, and accountability.

The coalition says it holds the university accountable for its “complicity in the genocide of the Palestinian people” and that the academic institution shouldn’t be “aiding in supplying instruments of warfare to a genocidal state”.

A banner across tents reading: 'This uni is complicit in genocide'
A banner accusing the University of Sheffield of being ‘complicit in genocide’ at the encampment on Wednesday [Nick McAlpin/The New Arab]

A submission for a 2021 UK-wide research assessment programme said the University of Sheffield’s work had “pioneered a novel, fully automated manufacturing process” used since 2015 at a BAE Systems site in Samlesbury, a village in northern England.

The submission said the process had been used at the arms firm’s site to produce fuselage panels for more than 500 F-35 warplanes.

BAE Systems said last year that it produces the rear fuselage for all F-35s globally at its facilities in Samlesbury.

Israel finalised an agreement in 2010 to buy around 20 of the American warplanes.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) took delivery of its first F-35 in 2016, with senior US defence official William LaPlante saying last December that the IAF had more than three dozen of the fighter jets.

The New Arab could not confirm whether the process pioneered at Sheffield had been used in making F-35 aircraft delivered to Israel.

The University of Sheffield was approached for comment but did not respond before publica

BAE Systems said last year that it produces the rear fuselage for all F-35s globally at its facilities in Samlesbury.

Israel finalised an agreement in 2010 to buy around 20 of the American warplanes.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) took delivery of its first F-35 in 2016, with senior US defence official William LaPlante saying last December that the IAF had more than three dozen of the fighter jets.

The New Arab could not confirm whether the process pioneered at Sheffield had been used in making F-35 aircraft delivered to Israel.

The University of Sheffield was approached for comment but did not respond before publication.

Other encampments expected

One student involved in the Sheffield camp, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said there were plans for encampments at “a very, very good number” of other universities in the coming days and weeks.

“We follow in the footsteps of Warwick, who began last week,” the student told The New Arab.

“Absolutely, we hope that this will be… a national movement. We’re already part of an international one.”

Stories posted on the Instagram account of Welsh university Swansea’s Palestine Society suggested an encampment was underway there, but The New Arab could not immediately verify this.

British news website The Independent reported that Goldsmiths, a London university, has been subject to occupations of buildings for weeks.

Organisers at Newcastle said on Wednesday they were proud to be joining Warwick, while other universities are expected to follow suit in the coming days. Students in Manchester said their action coincides with encampments in at least four other cities.

“The struggle of the Palestinian people to keep their dignity and livelihood is still going strong,” a spokesperson for the Manchester camp said in a press release.

“We stand in solidarity with all who are fighting for a Palestine free of genocide and occupation, from the River to the Sea,” the spokesperson added, referring to the boundaries of Palestine before Israel was created in 1948 alongside a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

(Source: The New Arab)