The Deakin Gaza Solidarity encampment in hindsight

The Deakin Gaza Solidarity encampment lasted seventeen days despite university management ordering us to clear out after six. It was set up by activists from Students for Palestine Deakin University, inspired by students across the world who set up encampments to demand their universities divest from Israel.

The encampment opened with a rally of more than 100 students and staff, the biggest pro-Palestine rally ever at Deakin. It was set up on the main walkway of campus, with 22 tents surrounding a big banner reading: “You are now entering Free Gaza encampment”.

There were signs put up around the camp highlighting Deakin’s ties with weapons companies, in particular BAE systems. BAE and Deakin University conduct joint research as part of the Advanced Fibre Cluster Group, which is centred at the Geelong Deakin campus and was founded and is funded by Deakin. BAE systems supplies weapons to Israel and manufactures part of the F-35 fighter jets used to murder Palestinians. One of the main demands of the encampment was for Deakin to cut ties with the company.

On a stage opposite the camp, a massive Palestinian flag hung from the roof, with chairs and picnic blankets on the stage itself. This was where almost daily teach-ins were held, which attracted a large number of students and staff. One lecturer even moved the location of their class from their usual room to the encampment and gave a teach-in about the lessons from the occupy movement. The camp was a place of constant political discussion and attracted students who had never previously been involved in pro-Palestine activism.

The encampment opened the space for students and staff to more easily talk about Palestine on campus, and enjoyed broad support. On the first day of the encampment, a staff member who works in the library told the organisers that the opening rally “opened a small gap to push my bosses to push their bosses to acknowledge and start engaging with your demands”. Families and supportive individuals donated homemade meals almost daily, and students stopped to chat late into the nights.

Deakin university management became the first university management in the country to order one of the encampments to clear out. They sent one of the organisers of the encampment an email claiming that the camp posed “hygiene and safety risks” and therefore had to be immediately dismantled. By this time, the executives of the university had already instructed security to set up a red tape barrier all around the main walkway of campus so that students could not walk past the encampment without being questioned by security about where they were going and being asked to show their student ID.

In response to this intimidation, we organised a rally to defend the encampment, which more than 100 people attended. “It’s outrageous that Deakin university has attacked our right to hold this protest and tried to stop us from showing solidarity with Palestine”, Alec Waleed, who chaired the rally, said. “We’ve called this protest to show them we won’t be intimidated and that we will stay here until the end of semester, as planned.”

Management sent a second email demanding that the camp be dismantled a day after the rally, this time threatening academic discipline if the camp continued. We ignored the directive. The camp remained until the end of the trimester and a rally was held on the last day to show management that Palestine solidarity actions would become part of campus life.

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Deakin was a wonderful contribution to the global student movement for Palestine and to solidifying pro-Palestine activism on the Deakin campus. Activists from Students for Palestine Deakin University are planning to continue the campaign against Deakin’s ties with weapons companies next semester.

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