Gaza solidarity encampment begins at Sydney University

25 April 2024
Simon Upitis
The Gaza solidarity camp at Sydney University PHOTO: Vinil Kumar

Activists from Students for Palestine Sydney University and the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) have established a protest camp outside the university’s iconic Quadrangle building, demanding that management cut ties with weapons companies and Israeli institutions.

“Our university has signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Thales Australia, one of the largest weapons manufacturing companies in the world”, Jasmine Alrawi, Students for Palestine convenor, told Red Flag. “Student research is used by a company that has armed bloody regimes all around the world, including Israel. We are demanding that the university management cut all ties with Thales.”

A banner reading “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” hangs in front of about twenty tents, many of which have been spray painted with activist slogans and Palestinian flags. The names of the universities around the world that have established similar camps are written in chalk across the asphalt. A gazebo in the middle of the camp serves as a drop-off point for community supporters who have donated water, energy drinks, homemade meals, toothpaste and sunscreen, among other things.

On Wednesday, the day after the camp was established, hundreds of students joined a rally at which SRC Vice President Deaglan Godwin played a recorded message of support from students involved in a similar occupation at the New School in New York. Dozens of students have attended teach-ins held by activists and academics on topics including the first Intifada, past student movements and the real history of the ANZACs.

The occupation was inspired by students at Columbia University in New York, who began their own protest camp last Wednesday. The Columbia encampment’s key demands are for the university to disclose its financial investments in companies that profit from Israel’s occupation and genocide, and that it immediately divests from those companies. They also demand that it end its partnership programs with Israeli universities and the Tel Aviv Global Centre, a think tank.

Last week, Columbia President Minouche Shafik called in the cops to clear the protest camp, resulting in more than 100 arrests. Dozens of students have also been suspended by the university and locked out of their student accommodation. On Tuesday, after the camp was re-established, Columbia management threatened to call in the National Guard.

This repression has sparked a wave of solidarity actions across America and internationally. Students from UC Berkley, NYU, Yale, MIT, Brown, Vanderbilt and others have set up their own protest camps.

“We’ve been watching the developments in America around the clock for the last week, and felt it was time to take a similar stand at our own university”, Shovan Bhattarai, the SRC Education Officer, told Red Flag.

“We are choosing to be on the right side of history. If the university tries to prevent us from calling out their complicity in Israel’s genocide, we will come back with more students and more disruption. Every student should join this campaign.”

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