A series of student-driven protests and occupations in aid of Gaza have prompted drastic action by universities across Scotland.
On Wednesday February 4 students of Strathclyde University staged an occupation of Strathclyde’s registry and on Sunday January 25 the Stop the War Coalition (SWC) and Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) also staged an occupation of the BBC headquarters in Glasgow.
Today 10 February around 30 students of Glasgow University were continuing their occupation of the Computing Department of the University. The occupation was a response to the events of last Thursday when students associated with the SWC marched on the Principal’s office with their demands attached to two petitions.
The first set of demands, supported by 560 signatures, requested that the University publicly condemn the BBC’s actions concerning the DEC appeal, that the appeal be publicised around campus and the University’s website, also that a collection day for Gaza be organized. Their second petition, with 350 signatories, demanded that Glasgow University break its links with BAE Systems and Eden Springs, as well as awarding scholarships to at least three Palestinian students.
David Newell, Secretary of Court, and Susan Stuart, Director of Corporate Communications received the petitions, and a reply was issued on Friday. The university agreed to hold a fundraising day, and proposed a program for the provision
of old books and computers to the University of Gaza. After receiving the reply, the group organised a rally for Monday and took occupation of the building at around 2:30. Inside the group drew up a fresh set of demands which read as follows:
“We demand: The severing of links between the university and arms manufacturers, such as BAE Systems. An official university statement condemning the Israeli army’s atrocities in Gaza; boycott of all Israeli produce on campus, such as Eden Springs water; donations of academic resources to help rebuild Gaza’s battered schools and universities; a day of fundraising across campus in support of the DEC appeal; a commitment to fund scholarships for Palestinian students. We, the students, will remain in occupation indefinitely until our demands are met.”
The university responded with a statement expressing “disappointment” with the group, and offered SWC delegates a meeting with Sir Muir Russell.
The letter read: “The University is disappointed that students have occupied a floor in the computing science building, despite the Principal’s offer to meet with a representative group. Sir Muir remains willing to meet with students.
“The University respects the right to freedom of speech, but the rights of students and staff to engage in their normal business is paramount. The University will take appropriate action if the occupation causes serious disruption to staff or students.”
At the time of going to press the Computing Department was still under occupation.
Earlier last week 100 students at Strathclyde University targeted Strathclyde’s registry, 30 of which occupied the building overnight until the University gave in to their list of demands for solidarity.
At the start of the protest there were claims of violence between the occupiers and the University’s security team, however these issues were quickly resolved.
Fiona MacPhail, a member of SWC and the Socialist Workers Alliance who was present at the protest, explained: “There were issues with the security when we first went in, they were not expecting the occupation, they were out of order and definitely using excessive force. Once we had established that we were there as a peaceful demonstration they were fantastic after that.”
The University agreed to terminate their contract with Eden Springs, an Israeli company that draws its water from the Golan Heights area of Syria occupied by Israel. They also agreed to strengthen its ties with the University of Gaza including a promise to provide at least one to three scholarships for Palestinian students. The DEC appeal will also be publicised on campus and on the University’s website.
MacPhail was delighted with the outcome of the occupation.
She told Guardian: “We were very happy with the result, not only were so many of our demands met, which was amazing in itself, but we got incredible publicity. We got messages of solidarity from all around the world, from India, Israel, Lebanon, and from Gaza itself. We’ve had fantastic support from students and lecturers on campus. We’ve started building a movement, we left the occupation feeling victorious, though this is the start of a much, much bigger campaign.”
In response to the occupation, Dr.Peter West, Secretary to the University of Strathclyde, said: “The University expresses its deep concern about the plight of the people of Gaza. We are particularly aware that the infrastructure of Higher Education has been damaged, making it particularly difficult for Palestinian students to pursue their studies.”
The activists’ demand to have the University cut its ties with British Aerospace Engineering Systems was not fully met, however MacPhail explained that they had reached a satisfactory compromise: “We didn’t get all our demands accepted, but we were prepared for that. One of our main demands was to have BAE Systems off campus. BAE is a massive sponsor of Strathclyde University so we knew that would be a difficult one to push. But we’ve arranged a public debate on campus and the University have said they will be in touch with a spokesperson for BAE systems who will come onto campus to justify the use of military investment at universities.”
The five hour occupation of the BBC came about as the result of an impromptu decision by activistsprotesting outside the headquarters against the BBC’s refusal to broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal for aid to Gaza.
The group demanded that the BBC show the DEC appeal for Gaza and for the resignation of the director responsible for the original decision not to air the appeal. They also demanded that the occupation was given coverage by the BBC and that no charges were brought against those involved. Because of the unplanned nature of the occupation they also demanded refreshments and access to facilities. Aamer Anwar, the infamous human rights lawyer, was in attendance in order to give legal advice to the activists.
Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs, met with the group to receive their demands.
Keith Boyd, representative for SWC, was present at the occupation. He told Guardian that they were disappointed with the BBC’s response to the situation. He said: “None of our major demands were met but after a while the police told us to leave otherwise they would arrest us. They haven’t shown the DEC appeal and they are continuing their bias towards Israel. We achieved our objective in that we got massive coverage from all over the world.”
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “We are in the process of replying formally to the points made by the protesters and we will be responding to them directly. The DEC appeal has not been broadcast because the BBC believes that to do so could question our impartiality.”