Defending the Monash Gaza solidarity encampment

10 May 2024
Luka Kiernan
The Monash University Gaza solidarity encampment PHOTO: Luka Kiernan

The Monash Gaza solidarity encampment, at the university’s Clayton campus in south-east Melbourne, has been attacked by Zionists and far-right activists repeatedly since its establishment on May Day.

Inspired by events at New York’s Columbia University and by the encampment movement elsewhere in the US, Monash students set up our own to demand that the university divest from Israel and that the government stop providing support to the apartheid state.

On the first night, around a dozen men, mostly middle-aged, invaded the camp at 2am. One claimed to be a serving member of the Israeli military. They smashed a gazebo and threatened activists with violence. They played Hebrew songs calling Palestinians “swarms of rats” who “will die in the dungeons” and sang Advance Australia Fair.

Eventually, police removed them.

Four nights later, they came back. But this time, the handful of far-right Israel supporters was confronted by 70 people who arrived after a social media callout for solidarity. Their attempted “invasion” of the encampment was turned into a rout.

“They fled, tails between their legs, resoundingly defeated”, Madi Curkovic, a Monash Students for Palestine organiser, said.

Zionists have constantly harassed the camp in daylight hours, often taunting activists with statements such as: “What genocide? There is no genocide happening” and “Palestine does not exist”. A student wearing an Israeli flag as a cape forced his way into the camp and allegedly assaulted Madi during one of the Zionist mobilisations. He returned the next day and planted himself in the middle of the encampment for several hours, while dozens of others shouted from the outside.

While the Zionists yell their hateful slogans, activists and our supporters are rallying, chanting and forming human chains to defend the encampment. Rather than being browbeaten or intimidated, more students and supporters have joined us because of the attacks.

It’s not surprising that the anti-Palestine presence has been strongest at Monash. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students, a pro-Israel student group, is particularly strong at the campus. It successfully campaigned to deregister the Socialist Alternative club in 2014 for its Palestine solidarity activism. Its members have largely been the ones harassing and intimidating activists at the camp.

This is the dynamic: Zionists and supporters of Israel’s genocide instigating campaigns of harassment, intimidation and threats of violence. Yet figures from both the Labor and Liberal parties have urged a crackdown on encampments around the country because Palestine solidarity activists allegedly are making people feel “unsafe”.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton labelled the camps “racist” and Labor MP Bill Shorten suggested they encourage students “to bully, coerce and intimidate”. It is absurd.

In addition to the attacks at Monash, fireworks have been hurled at the Adelaide University encampment on two separate occasions.

But the problem is not just the Zionists and the political right. The Monash Student Association, controlled by the Labor left faction, has been worse than silent. In last week’s student council meeting, Labor left members voted to prevent a discussion of the encampment.

They followed the vote with a statement saying that they were “gravely concerned with the recent violence” without saying who committed the violence, or even saying what the violence was about. It was essentially a “both sides are bad” statement—appalling in the context of both the genocide and of the mobilisation of forces against Palestine solidarity activism around the world.

Over the last few days, the university has started to move against the encampment. Campus security on 8 May began removing barricades established to defend the camp from the constant attacks. They issued a directive banning the phrase “from the river to the sea” and the words “intifada” and “genocide” from being used on campus and said that students ignoring the directive will face academic discipline.

Former Israeli military officer turned Free Palestine Melbourne activist Nachshon Amir expressed his outrage at this: “I am shocked that Australian students are being told that they can no longer call for freedom ‘from the river to the sea’. Is Monash University also an Israeli occupied territory?”

Yet student activists are remaining strong and united. We’ve established night watches and held several campus rallies of between 80 and 110. Large quantities of food and supplies have donated by local supporters, of which there are many.

Everyone involved is determined to keep fighting.

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