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UK university threatens pro-Palestine students, who ‘don’t want it to turn hostile’

May 14, 2024 at 3:35 pm

A sign left by protesters says ‘Free Palestine- No More War with red painted hand-prints in the UOL Liberated Zone in Leicester, England on May 13, 2024 [Martin Pope/Getty Images]

The University of Birmingham has become the first British university to threaten its students with legal action if they do not remove their pro-Palestine encampment. The university is one of many in the UK, including Cambridge and Oxford, where camps have been set up like those in the US, where there have been thousands of violent arrests.

Speaking to Anadolu, one student said that he has been camping at the university since last Wednesday. “We are trying to get our university to divest from Israel,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous due to fears of reprisal. “It’s paying millions of pounds yearly to arms manufacturers in Israel. We want to know how much is going, why it’s going, and where else our money is going. We also want the relationships with Israeli universities to be terminated.”

For the protesters, free speech is as important as holding the university accountable for its collaboration with Israeli firms and institutions.

“Lastly, we are here for our right to free speech to be protected… and for us to really be reassured that we can express our opinion,” added the student.

The protesters are now fearful of repercussions as the university administration has sent a letter warning them that they are trespassing.

“The University requires you to leave the premises immediately,” said Nicola Cardenos Blanco, the university’s director of legal services, in a letter sent last Friday. “Failure to do so will result in the University taking legal action and/or reporting your trespass to law enforcement officers without further notice.”

While the administration is threatening them with police action, the protesters say that they are receiving a lot of “absolutely heart-warming” support from other students.

“People are showing up day after day, some familiar faces and some new faces; seeing staff support us is just absolutely amazing,” another student told Anadolu, also requesting anonymity. “These tents are going to be here as long as we possibly can have them here until the university divests.”

She said that the student protesters are still hopeful that the university will be open to talks and constructive engagement. “We do not want it to turn hostile and we don’t want to do anything illegal,” she insisted.

Many students – especially those willing to talk to the media – are covering their faces. “We have fears about intimidation from the university and we have fears that we may be labelled as what we are not by counter-protesters. So, it’s [the masks] just for protection. We hope that our efforts here will lead us closer to liberation for the Palestinians.”

The protesters accuse the University of Birmingham of not only cooperating on research programmes with Israeli institutions, but also having investments in defence companies like BAE Systems.

READ: Pro-Palestinian encampment launched at Queen Mary University of London

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.