Students camp at SOAS. Students camp at SOAS. Source: Counterfire

Lucy Nichols and Shabbir Lakha report from the encampment in support of Palestine at London’s SOAS University and its part in the growing student movement

On a wet Monday afternoon, students from SOAS University in London joined the rapidly growing global student movement for Palestine. The students gathered together with students from other London universities and supporters and marched down to the green on campus where they rallied while some of the students quickly set up their tents.

Hundreds came to join the loud and energetic rally, completely catching campus security off-guard, who scrambled to lock the main doors of the buildings in case the students were planning on occupying them (which they weren’t).

Parents for Palestine brought a lively bloc of parents and young children with a playground set up in the middle of the encampment for the children to play, while supporters made a ring around the encampment in case security were thinking of trying anything.

Parents, childern and students provided a lively gathering at SOAS protest site.
Parents, childern and students provided a lively gathering at SOAS protest site. Source: Counterfire

Loud chants of ‘1: we are the students, 2: we won’t be silenced, 3: stop the bombing now now now’, ‘SOAS SOAS shame shame, all the crimes in your name’ and ‘free Palestine’ rang out and echoed in the square. Speeches from students and supporters set out the demands of the encampment – primarily ending SOAS’s complicity in Israel’s genocide in Gaza and ending the culture of fear it has generated by clamping down on student protests.

Counterfire members were among the many supporters who came armed with donations of food, blankets, power banks, books and essentials, and joined the ring protecting the encampment in a beautiful display of practical solidarity.

The SOAS encampment was the second London encampment to spring up, following the UCL one a few days earlier, and following several encampments that have rapidly spread across the country, starting at Warwick. To date, there are now encampments at Warwick, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Swansea, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Durham, UCL and SOAS, with more popping up each day.

The encampments as a tactic have been inspired by the brave stand students took at Columbia University in the US which was dealt with brutality by the university and state forces and which sparked a national student revolt resulting in over 100 encampments across the US. As well as the US and UK, student encampments for Gaza have also emerged in universities across Europe, and even local groups like in Hackney have begun an encampment outside the Town Hall.

Protest gaining strength as the day progressed.

These encampments have become an alternative to the marketized, neoliberal laboratories that universities have become with students organising their own teach-outs and workshops and building solidarity and practical organisation. The encampments have also become a rallying point for the wider movement in a number of places. In London, following the emergency protest outside Downing Street on Tuesday, hundreds gathered at SOAS for an angry and energetic rally.

In a number of places, including Goldsmiths University in London, California State University in the US and elsewhere, action has ended after the students have won all their demands from their universities.

These gains, after years of universities clamping down on Palestine solidarity on campuses and student rights in general, are a testament to the power of collective action. As Israel begins its operations in Rafah in what will be the deadliest phase of its genocide if it goes ahead, it is imperative that the global movement escalates. And the students are leading the way. Everyone should get down to their nearest encampment, help the students with resources they need and build the numbers for rallies.

The US is clearly terrified of the scale of the student revolt and is relying on state forces and legislation to try and stop them. Here, Sunak met with university Vice Chancellors asking them to clamp down on the protests. The whole movement must be ready to defend the students, but to also keep up the level of mass mobilisations that the student encampments are a part of and which raise the pressure on Westminster.

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