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Security raid London university union office, remove Palestine solidarity posters

February 21, 2024 at 3:32 pm

March in solidarity with Palestine in London, UK on 20 December 2023 [@qm_ucu]

The UCU (University and College Union) branch at Queen Mary University reported an incident yesterday in which the university management and security conducted a raid on their office to remove posters expressing solidarity with Palestine.

The raid occurred just one day after the university management warned the UCU that the posters, displayed for over two weeks, were having a “chilling effect on freedom of speech.”

In an Instagram post, the UCU said: “Today (Tuesday 20th February) management ordered security to break into the Queen Mary UCU office behind the Queens Building in order to remove posters expressing solidarity with Palestine. The posters were produced by UCU and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with which UCU is affiliated and called for an end to the genocide in Gaza.”

“QMUCU received multiple communications on Monday requesting access to remove the posters. The posters had been in place for over two weeks by this point. Management bizarrely claimed the posters were having a ‘chilling effect on freedom of speech’ on campus.”

Moreover, the branch had agreed to provide access to the office but made it clear that union communication materials should not be removed. However, while access was being arranged, UCU discovered that security had forcibly entered the office, confiscating the posters and causing damage in the process.

The statement also highlighted the dire situation in Gaza, where 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October, including over 200 educators and more than 4,000 students.

Security at Queen Mary University broke into the union’s office to remove posters expressing solidarity with Palestine on 20 February 2024 [@qm_ucu/X]

It added: “The branch condemns this raid on our space in the strongest terms. This is part of a wider unjustified crackdown on freedom of speech and the expression of solidarity with Palestinians. UCU will be seeking commitments from the university on freedom of speech and the use of union facilities.”

“In line with branch and union policy, we continue to call on Queen Mary to express its support for a ceasefire, as several universities have done, to divest from complicit companies, and end its partnerships with Israeli institutions. Members are encouraged to make use of UCU materials to express their solidarity with Palestine in the workplace.”

A Queen Mary University of London spokesperson told MEMO: “We support freedom of speech within the law. We have a responsibility to ensure that all our staff, students and visitors feel safe on our campuses. We do not support permanent displays on University premises that include slogans such as “from the river to the sea”, which we know some members of our community consider anti-Semitic and threatening. Such permanent displays on University premises could be seen as a University position, can stifle freedom of speech and make members of our community feel unsafe.”

They denied that the posters had been up for two weeks saying: “The university only saw them on Monday and removed then on Tuesday.”

Israel launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip following on 7 October killing 29,195 and injuring about 69,170 others, with mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

The Israeli war on Gaza has pushed 85 per cent of the territory’s population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to ensure its actions in Gaza do not constitute genocidal acts and to take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in the enclave.

READ: How the Gaza war has polarised the Global North and South

UPDATE: On 22 February 2024 at 8:22 GMT this article was updated with a comment from Queen Mary University.