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Students occupy Victoria Rooms demanding Bristol University to 'stand against genocide'

A group of students has occupied the Victoria Rooms, demanding the university to not be 'complicit in the bombardment of Gaza'.

By Shay Balsekar, Third Year, Philosophy, Milan PereraDeputy Editor and Laura Butler, Second Year, Politics and Sociology

A group of University of Bristol students has occupied the Victoria Rooms and vowed to stay overnight demanding ‘immediate measures be taken to ensure that the University adequately represents the will of students and staff.’

The boycotters, consisting of 13 students, entered the Victoria Rooms on Queen’s Road, around 2.30pm today.

The boycotters were accompanied by a large group of protesting students and staff who marched from Senate House to the Victoria Rooms.

The boycotters entered the Victoria Rooms at 2.30pm- Shay Balsekar

The protesters comprised a mix of various student groups led by ‘Bristol Occupy for Palestine’.

They carried placards voicing their anger and frustration regarding the situation in Gaza.

The occupiers have occupied the central atrium of the Victoria Rooms and said that they will not leave the premises until all of their demands have been met. To help their occupation they have arrived with food supplies and sleeping bags.

The occupiers included Aimee, Amos, Emi (the person that the University designated as group spokesperson), Damien, Phoebe, Sam, and those who wished to remain anonymous.

The protest was preceded by an open letter which was addressed to Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.

The open letter stated: ‘We, the undersigned students, staff and alumni, are writing to you to express our frustration at the University of Bristol’s complicity with the ongoing atrocities being enacted by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people.’

The open letter drew its attention to the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and said: ‘At least 576,000 people in Gaza face ‘catastrophic levels of food insecurity’, and desperate Palestinians trying to access food have been gunned down by the Israeli military.’

The provisions for the protesters - Shay Balsekar

It added: ‘Under the Genocide Convention, complicity in genocide is a punishable crime. We demand that the University engage in each and every necessary measure to ensure it, and by extension its staff, students and alumni, are not complicit in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which amounts to a plausible genocide.’

However, it welcomed the university’s move to review its investment with Barclays: 'We welcome the University’s move to review its investment with Barclays and would support the decision to divest from Barclays.’

‘Our University must stand against genocide’ demanded the protesters - Bristol Occupy for Palestine

One of the protest organisers, who wished to remain anonymous, said: 'For too long we have watched fellow students, academics, medics, journalists, and artists slaughtered in daily, indiscriminate bombings, all aided by the very university that claims to stand in our name.

'After months of desperate attempts to bring about change through traditional channels we are forced to take urgent, direct action. No University still stands in Gaza. Our University must stand against genocide.'

The occupiers’ demands are:

  1. Call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and acknowledge the ICJ ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide.
  2. Immediately cut ties with arms companies complicit in Israel’s attacks, including (but not necessarily limited to): Rolls-Royce, Thales, Airbus, BAE Systems, Leonardo, Honeywell, Cobham, GKN and Northrop Grumman.
  3. Cease the harassment and intimidation of Palestinian students and protect Palestinian students from harassment.
  4. Offer scholarships to displaced Palestinian students and contribute to the rebuilding of destroyed Palestinian educational facilities alongside condemning educide.
  5. Commit to a transition for full demilitarisation by signing the Demilitarise Education Treaty.
  6. Commit to free speech on campus.
    1. a)  Confirm that staff or students will not be punished for anti-Zionist beliefs.
    2. b)  Confirm the University’s support for peaceful student protest.
    3. c)  Replace the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.
  7. Offer full transparency concerning its partnerships and investments.
  8. Immediately end the requirement for students to use the Check-In app.
The boycotters have occupied the central atrium of the Victoria Rooms - Bristol Occupy for Palestine

Simon Ramsdale, Security Operation Manager for the University stated that security will ‘always try to engage and be respectful to protesters.’  

The Vice-Chancellor has also ensured that they are fully briefed on fire procedure. Security has promised that if there is a fire drill then the occupiers will be allowed to return to their place in the Victoria rooms.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: 'We respect our students’ freedom of speech and right to protest. Our Vice-Chancellor is always happy to talk with students about their concerns, meeting with the Friends of Palestine Society just this morning.

'We recognise the distress and impact on all staff and students at the University of the ongoing violence and conflict in the Middle East. It is more important than ever that we sustain our shared values of mutual respect, support, and compassion for each other, whatever our individual views on the conflict.

'We will continue to engage with the students occupying the Victoria Rooms to ensure their safety and those of others using the building.'

Featured image: Bristol Occupy for Palestine

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