Occupation members come under fire

Published

George Binning

A total of £673.27 was raised for the DEC appeal on the University’s fundraising day. However the preceding occupation of the Computer Sciences Department provoked a wave of complaints from students in Glasgow.

The occupying activists had won their demand to publicise the DEC Appeal but were heavily criticised for both their low turnout on the fundraising day and their refusal to collect for Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based charity that supports children from developing nations who suffer from heart disease. The charity sends 49% of its proceeds to help children in Palestine.

Although around 30 students took part in the occupation, the group only signed out four collection tins for the whole fundraising day. Gavin Lee, president of the SRC, criticised the occupiers’ lack of positive action saying:“We’re extremely disappointed that those who called for the fundraising day didn’t actually support it. Had more people participated we would have been able to raise significantly more money.”

Raymie Kiernan, a representative of the Stop the War Coalition (SWC) rebuffed, criticising the haste and lack of consultation with which the day was organised.
He said: “The fundraising day wasn’t organised properly, the agreements weren’t stuck to and the university didn’t give much notice that it was happening and that had a serious impact on the money raised. Everybody knows Friday is not a busy day.

“Without enough notice you can’t expect people to drop everything to do the collection, we got as many people as possible on a shift rotation for the four cans we signed out.”

There were also concerns as to the aggressive nature of a number of the slogans that the group chanted. The SRC took a strong line of disapproval against the reported antagonism. President Gavin Lee told Guardian that the council had received anxious reports from students across campus.

He said: “There were considerable concerns raised by a number of students about some of the comments and racial slurs that were being bandied around during the occupation. We were told of Jewish students feeling uncomfortable on campus during that period also. The SRC worked with the Jewish Society to help alleviate any concerns students had, and to reduce any offence that may be caused.

“While everyone can have their own opinions and can campaign on campus, it’s really damaging if even one student feels threatened or uncomfortable because of their racial, religious and ethnic background. It shouldn’t happen anywhere, never mind at University, and whatever’s going on in the world that doesn’t mean that hostility is permissible or beneficial in any way.”

Adina Roth, president of the Glasgow Jewish Society, was supportive of the University’s handling of the occupation but echoed the SRC’s objection to the aggressive manner of some of the protest chants.

She told Guardian: “We welcome the steps of Glasgow University to support the DEC Appeal and Save a Child’s Heart, along with their refusal to boycott goods and academics. However, we’re extremely concerned about the intimidating language used in these protests and the calls for the destruction of Israel that actively work against a peaceful two state solution which the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are desperate to achieve.”

Having granted some of the occupiers’ demands, University authorities added to the number of objections.

A University spokesman said: “The University does not wish to see any groups of students on campus made to feel uncomfortable by the behaviour of others and it is a matter of concern that several Jewish students found some chants used by demonstrators upsetting.”

One of the slogans that has been called into question called for victory for the intifada, which has been linked to the two Palestinian revolutions in the latter half of the twentieth century. Heavy casualties were sustained on both sides during these especially violent periods of Israeli/Palestinian history. Objections were also raised to the chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” which alludes to a single Palestinian state covering the territory west of the Jordan River, a lot of which is accepted as belonging to Israel.

Kiernan was swift to defend the group’s chant saying: “It’s a misunderstanding of the word intifada, it literally means the shake up or in common usage to mean popular uprising, now that doesn’t have anything to do with violence or armed struggle. I object to it being called a militaristic chant because people use the chant to identify with the struggle.”

Anthony Silkoff, chair of OneVoice Glasgow, also warned that any hostile messages were not conducive to the peace process.

He said: “Aggressive protests or actions by supporters of one side are not helpful, but it’s important to acknowledge how the tragic events in Gaza have angered people and led to rash behaviour. Popular frustration at the lack of progress, and apparent worsening of the situation, has led to violence and outrage both in the region and closer to home.”

There were serious misgivings from the occupiers camp that the decision to collect for Save a Child’s Heart was detracting from the donations for the DEC appeal.

Kiernan told Guardian: “Everyone who supported the occupation was very disappointed and some were very angry at the decision.
“Where were the protests or petitions for Save a Childs Heart? It was supposed to be an official collection day for the DEC appeal. We specified that the money we collected be put towards the DEC appeal only.”

Gavin Lee explained that the collection for Save a Child’s Heart was a diplomatic gesture to bring political balance to the collection day.

He said: “The University, in consultation with the SRC, decided to raise for this charity also because it is a wonderful example of, and represents, a peaceful and beneficial relationship between people of both Israel and Palestine. It is particularly pertinent to recognise this collaboration during the conflict.”

Silkoff also praised the decision to hold a bipartisan collection day, saying: “The decision to raise money for the DEC Gaza appeal and Save a Child’s Heart was a wise one, as these charities are both completely humanitarian in aims and character.”

Lee added that there had been a number of complaints of aggressive chanting, some due to the appropriation of the Computing Department’s facilities.

He said: “There were many complaints made by students, both to the University and the SRC, during the occupation. A significant number supported the SRC’s stance on the occupation; a significant number demanded the University remove the protesters from the building.”