Students occupy Warwick piazza over university’s ‘Israel ties’

Action to coincide with open day comes after widespread unrest on US campuses

April 26, 2024
Source: Warwick Stands with Palestine/ X

Pro-Palestinian students have occupied the centre of the University of Warwick in a protest against the institution’s financial ties to Israeli “genocide” in Gaza, in another sign that US campus unrest is spreading across the pond.

The organisation Warwick Stands with Palestine is holding what it calls an “Alternative Open Day” on the central piazza on 26-27 April – timed to coincide with the institution’s own offer-holder day.

Speaking with Times Higher Education, a spokesperson for the group said the occupation marked an escalation of tactics after Warwick had rejected their demands to “cut ties with genocide” and ignored motions by students’ unions, open letters, protests and sit-ins.

“We feel the popular will of the students has been flat-out rejected,” they said.

“We’re using the political moment, the escalations happening in Columbia [University] and all over the world at the moment…to keep the attention on Gaza.”

In statements posted online, the coalition of student and staff organisations said they wanted to “rise up in unison with fellow students all over the world, from Columbia, NYC, to Paris, to Sydney”.

The group, which occupied the piazza in the early hours of 26 April with tents and Palestinian flags, said they joined thousands of students all over the world in “reclaiming space on their campuses for Gaza to demand divestment from colonial genocide”.

Clashes have continued in the US, with a new wave of student demonstrations and encampments at dozens of campuses leading to hundreds of arrests in the past few days.

As part of its demands for divestment, Warwick Stands with Palestine wants the university to immediately terminate all academic and teaching partnerships with companies it claims are facilitating Israel’s war in Gaza – including Rolls-Royce, Moog and BAE Systems.

It also demands that Warwick call for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict, something many UK vice-chancellors have been reluctant to do, wants the university to pledge to assist the rebuilding of Gaza’s destroyed education sector, and seeks protection for the freedom of speech for Palestinian students and staff.

The movement appeared to have the backing of at least some of academic staff, with the Warwick University and College Union (UCU) branch pledging its “full solidarity” with the students.

“We trust the university will respect the students’ right to peaceful protest and hope they will respond meaningfully to the students’ demands,” said a spokesperson for the UCU branch.

Nicola Pratt, professor of the international politics of the Middle East at Warwick, said the institution had failed to address an open letter signed by more than 500 staff and students calling on the university to cut ties with companies that are “profiting from and enabling Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip”.

“Universities have a moral responsibility to support peace and freedom and not to be complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations,” she told THE.

As part of the alternative open day, students are holding a series of events to “reimagine what campus will look like when Palestine is free”, including kite-making workshops and poetry readings.

The Warwick Stands with Palestine spokesperson said they wanted to speak with prospective students about the university’s ties to Israel.

“We’re trying to make that violence visible on campus, and we think the university will have a reputational damage when we attempt to disrupt their ability to introduce themselves through the open days,” they added.

A Warwick spokesperson said the university was aware of the protest.

“We are talking to the protesters and engaging positively. Planned campus activities will continue,” they said.

Elsewhere in the UK, a rally was set to take place at UCL after a 34-day occupation of a campus building came to an end. The UCL Action for Palestine group was set to meet with the institution’s president, Michael Spence.

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Reader's comments (1)

This article makes me glad that (a) I am retiring as an academic soon and (b) I never wasted my money on the UCU. The companies listed are legitimate businesses that are very important to the defence of the UK (my concern as a citizen) and the university should not bow down to uncompromising actions such as that taking place. I hope that those students involved who are not going to become professional agitators reflect on their positions as the exams approach.