British Students Gain London School of Economics Stand Against Israeli Military Action in Gaza

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Timing
Time Period:  
15 January
2009
to
22 January
2009
Location and Goals
Country: 
United Kingdom
Location City/State/Province: 
London, England
Location Description: 
London School of Economics
Goals: 
University statement condemning Israeli military action in Gaza, more scholarships for Palestinian students, a fundraising day for educational institutions in Gaza, the shipment of extra university supplies to schools in Gaza, and student amnesty
 

In January of 2009, protests broke out worldwide to condemn Israel’s military actions in Gaza. The weekend of the 10th and 11th of January, crowds gathered in cities worldwide for demonstrations of up to 250,000 people. In London, 100,000 people gathered to protest the war in Gaza.

A couple of days following these demonstrations, student occupations at universities in the United Kingdom (UK) began to break out, starting with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 13 January.

The London School of Economics (LSE) followed two days later on 15 January. Over the next month, students all over the UK began following this trend, holding occupations in the hopes of making changes at their own universities, including schools such as Oxford and Cambridge.

The student sit-in at LSE was not the first the university had seen of student demands related to the conflict in Palestine. Since the beginning of the Gaza War in December, students and university administrators corresponded irregularly about the conflict and degree to which the university should more actively support Gaza and show condemnation of the acts of Israel. Little came of these early discussions. On 13 January, the student union at LSE passed a motion condemning Israel and two days later, the students at LSE decided to start an occupation.

On 15 January 2009, 40 students at LSE decided to occupy Old Theatre, a lecture hall at the university. The students allowed classes to continue throughout the occupation if the professors would allow them to give a two-minute presentation on the occupation before each class. Student occupiers sent a letter to Howard Davies, the director of LSE, which detailed their reasons for occupation, their promise that the protest would be peaceful, and a list of six demands that students wanted met before they would end the sit-in.

The students demanded that LSE: make a statement condemning the Israeli attack on Gaza and demanding a cease-fire; stop any potential investments with BAE, a company that supplies arms to Israel; offer five full scholarships for Palestinian students; administer a fundraising day to benefit people of Gaza; donate extra books and computers to schools in Gaza; and assure the right of students at LSE to peacefully protest.

On Friday 16 January, the second day of the occupation at LSE, Tony Benn, anti-war campaigner and former member of the cabinet in a Labor Government, and Lindsey German, the convener of the Stop the War Coalition, came to speak and support the occupation cause in Old Theatre. Three hundred and fifty students filled the theatre for former Minister Benn’s speech.

Later that day, students received a letter from Davies in which he agreed to meet two student demands, the donation of books to schools in Gaza and the right of students to occupy Old Theatre.

The following day, Saturday 17 January, students sent a response letter to Davies reiterating their demands. That day, Mira Hammad, one of the prominent student occupiers at LSE, spoke at a rally of 10,000 people and called upon students at other universities to begin their own occupations. Though no specific student is cited as the leader of the occupation at LSE, Hammad appeared to be one of the students involved in the organization of the LSE occupation.

The next day, Sunday 18 January, Davies sent a response letter that agreed to fund the five scholarships that the occupiers demanded. The students responded soon after with another letter offering compromises on their remaining three demands. Instead of demanding divestment they demanded that the board of LSE finances read and seriously consider a paper detailing practices of ethical investment policies and instead of issuing a statement condemning all of Israel’s actions in Gaza, the students demanded that Davies make a statement condemning the destruction of educational institutions in Gaza by Israel.

That same day George Galloway, former Mayor of London, and Dan Judelson, chair of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, spoke to student occupiers at a rally in Old Theatre.

Though numbers had dwindled to 20 student occupiers over the weekend while many students were out protesting in the city, by Monday 19 January, 80 occupiers were sitting-in and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and social activist, sent a message of solidarity to the students occupying at LSE.

The following day, Tuesday 20 January students hosted four speakers to further discuss the war. Wednesday 21 January, music groups and artists from the Middle East were invited to perform and Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian doctor, author, and academic, came to speak to students.

On Thursday 22 January, seven days after the occupation at LSE began, students received a letter from Davies that promised to meet all the demands that the students had negotiated. The occupation ended and the students claimed victory.

Over the course of a week, students at LSE occupied Old Theatre with the mission of supporting education and human rights in Gaza. By occupying a lecture hall and inviting gathering support through various speakers and events, students were able to pressure administrators to act. In the end, the occupiers compromised on a few of their larger goals while maintaining the spirit of their original demands in order to change the way their university approached Israel’s war on Gaza.

Research Notes
Influences: 

1 Occupation at School of Oriental and African Studies

2 Occupations at many other British universities (at least 14 others)

Sources: 
Daily Mail Reporter. "Cities across the World Become Platform for Hundreds of Thousands of Protesters against Gaza Fighting." Dailymail.co.uk. Daily Mail, 11 Jan. 2009. Web.

Humphries, Abigail. "Surge of Direct Action at UK Universities in Support of Palestine." Electronicinfitada.net. Electronic Infitada, 28 Jan. 2009. Web.

Lipsett, Anthea, and Alison Benjamin. "Storm of Student Protest over Gaza Gathers Force." Theguardian.com. Guardian, 23 Jan. 2009. Web.

"LSE Solidarity with Gaza!" Web log post. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ruder, Eric. "A Movement Builds against Israel's Apartheid." Socialist Worker. N.p., 31 Jan. 2014. Web.

Vardi, Daphna. "British University Students Protest Israel." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. N.p., 23 Jan. 2009. Web.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Emily Kluver, 15/02/2014