Oxford students occupy historic building, gain University support for Gaza 2009

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Time Period:  
22 January
22 January
Location and Goals
United Kingdom
Location City/State/Province: 
Oxford, England
Location Description: 
Oxford University
1. Statement

2. Divestment

3. 5 Scholarships for Palestinian students

4. Cancellation of Shimon Peres lecture series

5. Donation of education materials to Palestine

6. Student rights to peacefully protest


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 on 15 January, and many more universities in the following weeks.

12:00 PM 22 January 2009, Oxford joined the surge of occupations responding to the war in Gaza after students attended an emergency meeting where they discussed the precarious ceasefire in Gaza. After the meeting, students organized an occupation of 80 students in the Clarendon Building, which houses office and meeting space for senior members of staff.

They released a press report stating six demands, including: a university statement supporting the Palestinian right to education; a withdrawal of investment from Israeli arms companies; 5 full scholarships for Palestinian students; the cancellation of a lecture series on peace that was inaugurated by Israeli president, Shimon Peres; the donation of resources to support education in Palestine; and the right of students to protest peacefully.

Within an hour of the meeting’s start, police tried to block more students from entering the Clarendon building, but protesters continued to enter through the windows of the building. Police then brought out one of the leaders of the movement, Omar Alshehabi, and told him to tell protesters that they would be prosecuted for aggravated trespass.

One student responded by yelling out the windows, “You can’t arrest all of us.”

At 1:30 PM, the Senior Proctor of the Oxford as well as the Vice Chancellor met with student leaders, Juliette Harkin and Omar Alshehabi to reach an agreement.

During these discussions, occupying students chanted and held signs that spelled out their demands, condemned violence from Israel, and supported the rights of Palestinians. A local Lebanese restaurant passed out food to the protesters.

By 6:30 PM University officials and student protest leaders reached an agreement and the Oxford University protest ended.

Students successfully met 3 of their original demands in full: a statement from the University expressing support for Palestinian students; 5 paid scholarships for Palestinians; and the donation of educational materials to Palestine.

In a letter from the Senior Proctor, the students were told that their desire for a withdrawal of investments and the cancellation of the lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres, would be brought up and discussed through the appropriate channels. Neither goal was met.

The letter from the Senior Proctor also informed protesters that while the University could not grant them the full right to peaceful protest, their lack of destruction and overall respect for the Clarendon building would be taken into account when deciding on punishments.

Each student was eventually fined £20.

Research Notes

1) SOAS occupation and other student occupations

2) Following occupations

Gaza Sit-in Demonstration Ended. (2009, January 22). Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/oxfordshire/7844890.stm

Hobden, T. (2009, January 22). Update: Protesters take over University building. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/news/4068385.Protesters_take_over_University_building/

Lipsett, A., & Benjamin, A. (2009, January 23). Storm of student protest over Gaza gathers force. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/jan/23/student-protests-gaza

Merz, T. (2009, January 26). Students Barricade Bodleian. Retrieved from http://www.cherwell.org/news/2009/01/22/students-barricade-bodleian

Oxford Occupation for Gaza. (2009, January 22). Retrieved from http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/01/419766.html

Oxford Occupation in Solidarity with Gaza [Web log post]. (2009, January 18). Retrieved from http://occupiedoxford.wordpress.com/page/5/

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Emily Kluver 20/03/2014