Student encampement in Newcastle Student encampement in Newcastle. Photo: Graham Kirkwood

Students Gaza solidarity encampment at Newcastle University has become a hub of Palestine solidarity locally, reports Graham Kirkwood

After withstanding a night of heavy rain, the Newcastle University Palestine camp was back up and running on Saturday. Two of the camp activists from the Newcastle Apartheid Off Campus campaign came to the May Day rally organised by Newcastle upon Tyne Trades Council and spoke to warm applause as they explained why they were taking a stand.

Later in the afternoon I spoke to Lewi, a spokesperson for the camp. He told me how the camp had grown since first starting with a few small tents on Wednesday morning. It has brought various student communities together and they have been overwhelmed with solidarity from the wider communities in the city including the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities.

After the deluge on Friday night, people turned up with mops, tarpaulin and towels to help out. They have also received support from the student union and the UCU union, which represents staff. UCU nationally has issued a statement supporting the occupations.

I also spoke to Hala Hanina, a PhD student at the university who told me of the devastating toll this war has taken on her personally. She knows over 400 people who have been slaughtered by the Israeli bombardment. The camp is linking up with people in Gaza through social media who feel supported by what the students are doing.

For now, the university is taking an accommodating approach. They issued a statement on Thursday “As a university we respect this right to peaceful protest and lawful freedom of speech.” They have offered to meet representatives from the camp to discuss their demands on Tuesday. The students are insisting that they meet the vice chancellor.

The demands of the campaign are clear. They want the university to call for an immediate unconditional and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. They want divestment in defence and security firms and transparency over all investments, collaborations and partnerships with such companies which includes Leonardo S.p.A, BAE systems, Pearson Engineering and Siemens. They want to see the university break its links with Israeli universities and to support the rebuilding of Palestinian universities. They also want the university to remove the use of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

The demands to break links with defence and security firms comes after a motion was passed at the Newcastle University Students’ Union Council on 14 March 2024 which resolved “To lobby Newcastle University to ensure that the University does not engage in any research activities that could be used for offensive purposes, rather than defensive purposes within the military sector.” The response so far from the university has been to defend these collaborations.

Hala also spoke at the May Day rally on Saturday and called for trade unions and workers to take action showing solidarity with Palestinians on the 15 May – Nakba Day, which commemorates the Nakba catastrophe in 1948 when the Israeli state was born.

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