Oxbridge students launch pro-Palestine campus protests

By ITV News' Lili Donlon-Mansbridge

Students and staff at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge have launched a joint pro-Palestinian campus protest in response to the conflict in Gaza.

The action echoes similar protests taking place across the US.

In the early hours of Monday around 60 students established an encampment protest outside King's College in the centre of Cambridge.

Oxford students set up camp outside the Pitt Rivers museum Credit: @HosniehMarbini

Hundreds more are said to be supporting the protesting students by providing food, donations, and other resources.

Similar action is taking place in Oxford outside the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is run by the university.

Footage shared exclusively with ITV News shows student protesters at the University of Cambridge entering and setting up the encampment this morning.

Students on their way to join the protest

The videos show students preparing and walking through town with equipment, and later setting up tents and banners on King's Parade, a busy street in the centre of Cambridge.

ITV News understands supporters, including the national Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Friends of Al-Asqa have donated to the protesters, with a rally in support of the encampment planned for 3 pm.

Following action taken in the US, organisers have termed these encampments a "liberated zone", where protesters and supporters can live with speakers, talks and "teach-ins".

The protesters, organised under the groups Cambridge for Palestine and Oxford Action for Palestine, are calling on their universities to disclose and cut all financial and academic ties with the Israeli government and institutions.

This would mean taking actions such as selling off stock in Israeli companies or otherwise severing financial links with Israel.

Protesters are also calling on their universities to reinvest in education in the Gaza Strip after the war, and for assurance that any students participating in the action will not be disciplined.

The organisers from both universities have vowed to remain in their respective zones until their demands are met.

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The action follows similar protests at universities in the US, UK and around the world.

At Columbia University, a leading educational institution in the US, students were arrested as action was shut down by federal police.

Similar protests have been seen in the UK at universities including Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Warwick and Newcastle.

This week, student protestors at Goldsmiths, University of London ended their occupation, saying the university had agreed to their demands.

The protests that have swept across universities in the US have caused controversy, with President Joe Biden criticising the students' protests as becoming "violent".

In a White House address the US president said that while “dissent is essential for democracy", it "must never lead to disorder”.

“Violent protests are not protected. Peaceful protest is. There’s the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campus, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation … None of this is a peaceful protest.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently said he would back the police and universities in taking action against any protesting students where necessary.

Rishi Sunak's official spokesperson said last Thursday: “While we firmly believe in the power of rigorous free speech and debate, the right to that does not include the right to harass others or incite others to violence or terrorism.

“Obviously the police already have extensive public order powers to tackle disorder at protests and will continue to have our full support in doing so if needed,” they added.

"We all feel a sense of duty"

Ana, a second year student at the University of Oxford, told ITV News that she has taken part in the encampment to "stand in solidarity with Palestinian victims of genocide and in solidarity with our friends in Cambridge and on US campuses."

She believes the spread of this kind of protest across the world shows that her generation of students "refuse to continue as normal and turn a blind eye to slaughter".

"We all feel a sense of duty as students in the West, and we plan to be here until the university meets our demands to disclose their investments, divest from the Israeli apartheid government and overhaul future investments," she added.

Students have planned how they will protest around the university sites. Credit: ITV News

Mahmoud, a spokesperson for Cambridge for Palestine who is currently in the encampment, told ITV News that he believes these student movements have the potential to “start the beginning of the end of Israeli apartheid on Palestinian land.”

He said Cambridge students were influenced by other movements.

“Inspired by South Africa’s stand at the ICJ, inspired by students at Columbia University, and by so many universities across the world, we are the latest to join movements pushing forward the idea of Palestinian solidarity outside of Palestine.”

The protest has participants from several student and staff groups across the university, including Cambridge Jews for Justice, a group of Jewish students at the University of Cambridge.

How have the universities responded?

A spokesperson from their group said: "We refuse to sit by while our university is complicit in, and profits from, the genocide of Palestinians. And we refuse to accept its commitment to murder and bloodshed as the status quo.

"So, we act together as Jews, religious and secular, in line with our cultural and religious values: demanding disclosure, divestment, reinvestment, and protection – for the university's staff, students, the wider Cambridge community, and for the people of Palestine. Our histories teach us nothing if not the fact that none of us are free until all of us are free."

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge told a student newspaper Varsity: “The University is fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and we acknowledge the right to protest. We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with understanding and empathy. Our priority is the safety of all staff and students. “We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia and any other form of racial or religious hatred, or other unlawful activity.”

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said it was "aware" of the ongoing demonstrations around the university.

"We respect our students and staff members right to freedom of expression in the form of peaceful protests. We ask everyone who is taking part to do so with respect, courtesy and empathy.

Oxford University’s primary focus is the health and safety of the University community, and to ensure any impact on work, research and learning, including student exams, is minimised. As we have stressed in our student and staff communications there is no place for intolerance at the University of Oxford.

"The Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum remain open.”

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