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Students Launch Pro-Palestine Encampment on Elphinstone Lawn

Protestors pitch tents amidst demands for the University to 'condemn Israel'


By Finn Abou El Magd


Protestors gather on lawn next to tents
Photo Credit: Fred Byrne

Student campaigners erected tents on Elphinstone Lawn today, launching an encampment in support of Palestine and to urge the University to call for a ceasefire.


The protestors started setting up on the lawn at 11:00 with support from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).


Things got officially underway at 13:00 as a spokesperson took to a megaphone to share the campaigners’ demands:


“We are here and hopefully will be here until our university meets our demands.”


Protesters state demands:


The encampment has seen students come together to demand that the University of Aberdeen “Divest, Condemn, Pledge and Protect.”


Protestors have published a list of demands which call on university management to end a million pound contract with HP, close the on-campus Subway and Starbucks outlets, directly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza, amongst other demands.


'Right to protest':


Speaking to The Gaudie before the launch, President of the Palestine Solidarity Society Ayah Mbarki shared how organisers had planned for the University’s reaction to the encampment:


“We have a right to protest, and this encampment is a form of protesting. We hope that we can express our views and concerns over the genocide.


"We hope the university listens to our demands, that they will not have an issue with a peaceful protest, and that our freedom of speech will not be suppressed.”

University responds:


The last occupation staged at the University of Aberdeen was a nine-day sit-in at the University Office in 2018, which resulted in police being called on protestors.


Regarding the encampment, a University of Aberdeen spokesperson said:


“The University respects and supports the right to peaceful and lawful protest. Our campus should be a safe space for all, and we are clear that any incidents of harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated.”

Union pledges support for demonstrators:


In a statement, the Students' Union shared how they were supporting the campaigners, including the provision of snacks and hot drinks. Protestors were also provided with printouts which listed the support available including First Aid. Student President Vanessa Mabonso Nzolo told The Gaudie:


“We have worked with the University to ensure students who are protesting and taking part in the encampment are aware of support systems, and access to 24/7 toilet, shower, and water facilities.”


“Earlier today we facilitated an introduction with the President of Palestine Solidarity Society with the University to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page in terms of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students at the encampment."


Protests have spread across the UK in recent weeks:


This comes as encampments are ongoing at 14 university campuses across the UK, as of May 6th, including the University of Edinburgh.


Recently, protestors at Goldsmiths (University of London) were successful in their efforts as university management conceded to their demands on May 3rd; following five weeks of occupation and a flash encampment in their library.


The University and College Union (UCU) released a statement supporting ‘campus Palestine protests’:


“As peaceful encampments and occupations spread across Britain, we call on vice-chancellors to take a different approach.


"We are clear that antisemitism and Islamophobia have no place on our campuses or in our society, but freedom of speech and freedom of assembly within the law are fundamental human rights and civil liberties which must be upheld.”


Similar pro-Palestine protests on US university campuses have resulted in police raids, with the BBC reporting that over 100 arrests have been made at Columbia University.


Protests come as the Gazan educational system has been destroyed. According to Palestinian News Agency Wafa, all 12 universities in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged.


The latest meeting of the University Senate passed a motion acknowledging and condemning “the systematic destruction of Palestinian education institutions and knowledge systems.”


University must do more, protesters say:


One anonymous campaigner was disappointed with the University’s response to the ongoing violence in Gaza:


“I thought by now the university would have released a statement openly condemning what’s happening, but I guess they haven’t. That’s one of our demands, to openly condemn what is happening – it’s genocide – and demand a ceasefire.”


Anonymous members of the Palestine Solidarity Society (PSS) spoke to The Gaudie about the importance of collective support from encampments at other universities:


“The main reason why we’re here is the solidarity and pressure. If more universities set up [encampments], the better. We had a meeting with all the universities on zoom, there were 94 universities in the meeting, and they were saying how their encampments were going really well across England, Scotland and Wales. They were pushing other universities to take part, so we decided, let’s do it.”


“It’s not just one group of people wanting justice. It’s students, young people’s voices for the future, wanting an end to genocide and divestment from genocidal entities.”

As the encampment got underway, Ms. Mbarki shared how students could support the protestors:


“Join us in solidarity. Bring supplies like food and drinks.”




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