On the 1st and 2nd September, students from across the UK came together at Manchester University Student Union to collaborate and organise in their demands for their universities to stop arming, funding and supporting Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, human rights abuses, and breaking of international law.
The educational weekend saw an inspiring turnout of proactive and enthusiastic students from different parts of the UK, coming to organise and share knowledge and skills before term starts. Taking part in a variety of workshops focused on research, international law, campaigning, skill sharing; attending talks given by sister movements and campaign groups (with speakers from across the globe); and having the space to socialise and meet other activists – the conference provided various mediums to tackle Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and act in solidarity.
The ongoing oppression of Palestinians, in which the government is complicit plays out day in day out. Standing up to war crimes, or demanding rights given under four bodies of international law has resulted in dire consequences for Palestinians. With the destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, and the ongoing killings now routinely on Fridays with the Great March of Return (whereby over 205 people have been killed); along with the everyday oppression that has resulted in displacement, detainment and death, it’s crucial we take a stand at an attempt of showing solidarity with Palestinians.
The focus of this year’s conference was on BDS – the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. The movement’s importance not only lies in its previous success (specifically in the case of South African Apartheid), or its current success, or in its fundamental call for freedom, justice and equality, or even in its demonstrable quality as a tool of democracy and agency, but rather in it being led by, and a call specifically from the Palestinian community. Understanding that Palestinians have asked for this to be a tool used by the international community – to act in solidarity, rather than it being an attempt by non-Palestinians to “help” or “save” Palestinians, is crucial.
“In 2005, Palestinian civil society organisations called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel. The BDS movement was launched by 170 Palestinian unions, political parties, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies.”
As a reminder, the BDS movement has three demands: equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel, ending the occupation and dismantling the wall, and the Palestinian right to return as granted in UN resolution 194.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) Universities Network, is proud to be amongst students and organisers working for an end to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Our contribution was focused on the militarisation of universities, how we can recognise both the obvious and subtle ways in which militarisation is present and the ways which we must collectively (in both the sense of the collective university community, as well as collectively as different movements and campaigns), fight for the end of the same oppressive structures and systems that are harming us all.
CAAT attempted to address the numerous ways in which our universities are militarised, and within the particular framework of the conference, how they were perpetuating the support for the oppression of Palestinians. We talked of the huge investments that universities and bodies linked (like the USS pension scheme) have in the arms industry and arms companies that supply arms to Israel.
Discussed also were the financial links to the arms trade, through other avenues like fundraising, procurement and networking. Take procurement for example; university equipment purchased from companies like HP are inherently linked, with HP being one of the world’s largest arms companies, and in specific relation to the oppression of Palestinians – a developer of technology that supplies biometric IDs, developer of prison systems – used to detain children, carry out human right abuses, breach international law and uphold a state of apartheid.
Crucially, we discussed the research links universities have in supporting Israel’s oppression of Palestinians to not only fund war, occupation, oppression but only pave the way for more of it. By exhausting the limited resources (capacity, student labour, research etc.) to only contribute to technologies and research to develop war, and therefore fuelling it, universities limit extensively (or even ban) academic freedom and act oppressively. There is no room for providing freedom to explore alternatives or providing the space for creative competition in bringing about good in society; – research in itself and how it is being applied and funded is contributing to the militarising of society.
The university of Manchester’s choice in selling 85% of its graphene research application (which as Demilitarse Education rightly outline, could be used to provide clean drinking water for millions) to the engineering company Versarien is one example of this. Versarien who “through industrial partnerships and shared ownership, …have now won a major contract with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), the major state corporation implicated in all aspects of Israeli military production”, are clearly implicated in the arms trade, especially in terms of Israel.
We also discussed militarisation through networking and connections. Recently the principal of KCL, Ed Byrne announced that KCL ““.. will be the best connected university with Israel,””. The principal’s recent trip to Israel where he met with presidents of Technion, Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute, and plans to hold a conference this upcoming year alongside these universities are all signifiers of a militarised university. The three universities mentioned are involved in developing Israel’s armed technology, and parts of them are built on occupied land (illegal under international law). Making these connections, and claiming a sense of pride and glory over these connections implies not only legitimacy for their involvement in human rights abuses, but active support.
A repulsive tokenistaion is adopted for universities to literally sell education; with KCL recently celebrating Tutu’s birthday but trampling over what he stands for and ignoring his calls; a painting of Nelson Mandela also hangs in Byrne’s ridiculously prodigal and extravagant office. Maybe some good bedtime reading for Byrne would be Nkosi Zwelivelile’s (Mandela’s grandson’s) piece on the similarities between South African and Israeli apartheid?
Or at least,to be reminded of Tutu having famously said, “Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
It is clear that along with so many other universities, King’s does not act in ways that could even be considered as ‘neutral’; rather they are actively engaging in the oppression of Palestinians.
Understanding the scope of the militarisation of our universities as well as the scope of consequences – immediate, deep-rooted and far-reaching; the weekend saw us recognise that divestment was not enough in our campaigns to end our universities’ complicity in Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses. It is clear then that militarisation of universities are not only involved in the oppression of Palestinians, but in various oppressions. It is also clear that the militarisation of universities plays a huge role in undermining the university; continuously creating and re-creating an institution serving management, corporate and state ‘power’ and interest. A restriction on academic freedom, a normalisation of militarised and oppressive voices and the failure to be transparent, held accountable or democratic has meant that the university fails at being a university.
Importantly, for us to fight we need to work collectively, understanding that the whole university community has a role to play in fighting this militarisation, and that a call for the freedom of Palestinians, is a call for the freedom of us all. Importantly, we must recognise significant wins. We must celebrate our collective power in the face of university management, corporate and state ‘power’, and our potential for a reimagining and recreating of the university.
An opportunity to use this call from Palestinians to address our complicity in their oppression (in our attempt at solidarity), whilst dismantling oppressive structures, will benefit a range of communities and benefit us collectively.
With the inspiration, energy, determination and love that we were able to share throughout the weekend, we can’t wait to celebrate the upcoming successes of student groups at different universities, in our collective answering to the call of Palestinians – in our attempt to show solidarity and in our organising for the end of the arms trade.
For more on BDS: https://bdsmovement.net/
For more on the academic boycott: http://www.bricup.org.uk/
For information about how UK universities are militarised: Call to Arms: The University as a Site of Militarised Capitalism and a Site of Struggle by Anna Stavrianakis