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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

“Power to the Students”

Campers Celebrate ‘Victory’ as University Calls for Ceasefire in Gaza


By Kirsten Koss

A large group of protestors smile for the camera.
Campers celebrating the end to the encampment. Photo credit: Kirsten Koss

Over 37 days of protest later, students camping on Elphinstone Lawn have packed up their tents. This comes as weeks of negotiations between the encampment, SU and the University culminated in an unprecedented call for a ceasefire by University chiefs.


Patches of withered grass are all that remains of the pro-Palestine encampment that has occupied Elphinstone Lawn for more than a month. The camp formally disbanded following an announcement made by University Secretary Tracey Slaven, where Ms Slaven affirmed that “the University stands with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in demanding an immediate cessation of military offensive in Rafah.”


The statement continued, calling for “the protection of Palestinian communities in Gaza from genocidal acts” in line with the ICJ’s preliminary ruling from January 26th, and an “unconditional release of hostages”.

Ms Slaven noted that “the University of Aberdeen fully supports the right to peaceful protest”, adding that students involved in the encampment have “demonstrated their passionate commitment” and that the camp had been carried out in a “responsible and considerate way”. 


Responding to the University’s statement, the Palestinian Solidarity Society reflected on the “significant progress” made. In a lengthy Instagram post entitled “Encampment Victory Statement” they said:


“The Aberdeen-Palestine Solidarity Encampment is pleased to report that we have made significant progress with the University this week, culminating in the statement released by senior management today. The University’s statement includes a call for an immediate ceasefire and the protection of Palestinians from genocidal acts.”


So, what has the University committed to?


The University’s call for an end to the military offensive in Rafah, as well as adopting the ICJ’s position that suggests the ongoing situation in Gaza could be genocide are undoubtedly the key takeaways from Ms Slaven’s statement.


Significantly, the statement commits to the establishment of a “University Assembly” which will develop a “values and ethics framework”.


Ms Slaven adds that “the determination of our students is clear” and that “investment and procurement decisions should reflect our values as a University community”.

It seems clear that much of the University community is on the same page, with the Students’ Union endorsing the camp in a recent statement. This followed support from the Aberdeen branch of the Universities and Colleges Union who visited the camp several times, and donated funds.


The format of the new University Assembly, which is to be based on the success of past Climate Assemblies, is set to be finalised by the end of the month, with the first meeting to take place in the beginning of next academic year.


Reflecting on the remaining demands of the encampment – which included shuttering the on-campus branches of Starbucks and Subway, as well as boycotting Israeli universities – the University has committed to working with sector wide bodies to review future decisions:


“To achieve value for money, universities join together to buy many products through sector-level frameworks. We commit to working with APUC (Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges) on the criteria for assessing and selecting suppliers.”


A meeting of the encampment and senior managers in May 2024 revealed the University holds £90,000 of indirect investment in the arms industry. Addressing this Ms Slaven noted that although many of the University’s investments are indirect, a small portion (0.7%) of University investments support the arms trade. Recognising that this contravenes the University’s own ‘Sustainable Investment’ policy, their statement commits to reviewing where the institution’s money is pooled.Calls for an academic boycott seem to have had less success, with the University reiterating its “commitment to academic freedom”, refusing to “restrict the ability of colleagues to profess their academic endeavour”. Despite this, Ms Slaven was keen to point out that there are no partnerships with Israeli universities, and no plans to create any. 


Encampment met with compassion


Throughout the five-and-a-half week camp, several protests were held across the University campus, including notable “die-ins” at the Duncan Rice, as well as a sit-in outside the University Offices in early May after protestors had a series of discussions with senior managers, with Principal Boyne even visiting the encampment.


After tensions peaked at the end of 2023 over University plans to end modern language teaching at the University caused national media interest, it seems hard lessons were learned from the negative publicity of the Save UoA Languages campaign.

Far from the hostile environment created between encampments at other universities globally and nationwide, the University of Aberdeen instead offered 24-hour protection, as well as access to showers, toilet facilities and student support.


Worldwide, protesting students have faced arrest, with student newspaper Cherwell reporting that 16 people were arrested in a protest at the University of Oxford – a scene which mirrors several arrests in the United States at Universities such as Penn State and Columbia. 


Campers react


A large cake is decorated with the Palestine flag.
The cake enjoyed by campers. Photo credit: Kirsten Koss

After news of the encampment’s achievements became public, a party was announced which saw a large group of students enjoying pizza, music and a Palestine-themed cake on the final evening of the camp.


Reflecting on the success, Ayah Mbarki, a student from the encampment and President of the Palestinian Solidarity Society told The Gaudie:


“We are very pleased with the progress we have made and it wouldn’t have happened without the support of everyone involved. I personally thank everyone who has donated, visited and most importantly - camped. 


“This camp has been a fantastic and extremely rewarding experience. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it and the community we have built will hopefully remain. We will continue pushing and pushing for the freedom of Palestine

 

“Our voices matter and students can make a difference. Power to the students and power to the intifada.”


Student Helen added that the looming on-campus graduation proved useful in negotiations:“It has been an asset knowing they needed the lawn for graduation.”


When asked how the society will continue to engage students after their physical presence is gone, Helen said:


“We plan to have a really big presence at freshers and to keep in touch with one another. Obviously if the university doesn’t meet its promises then we’ll need to consider escalating again, but we hopefully won't have to. It’s about making sure that we keep in touch with each other and keep active.”


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