UK students mobilise for Palestine


“Students have embraced a wide range of protest tactics to pressure academic institutions to end their complicity in the siege of Gaza.”

By Fraser McGuire, Arise Festival

As Israel’s devastating attacks on Gaza intensify, students at universities and sixth forms across the UK are mobilising in support of Palestine. Student campaigners have been researching university links to Israeli companies and UK arms manufacturers complicit in the ongoing bombing and assault on Gaza, which has seen more than ten thousand Palestinian civilians killed by occupation forces since October 7th. Many prestigious universities have research agreements which contribute to the development of weapons and technology used by Israel’s military, as well as exchange programs with universities built on illegally settled land.

Students have embraced a wide range of protest tactics to pressure academic institutions to end their complicity in the siege of Gaza. These include organising targeted demonstrations at buildings where military research occurs, disrupting events linked to Israeli companies, and using social media to highlight the links between the UK higher education system and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Taking inspiration from protests in the US, a wave of sit-ins and demonstrations at train stations has begun, with actions taking place in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, and more. Students have been front and centre in organising direct action to call for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s siege of Gaza, as well as bringing thousands of students to London to take part in the national demonstration on October 28th when more than half a million protestors took to the streets.

After a recent poll showed 76 percent of adults in the UK think there should be a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine war, contrasting to the positions of the Government and the Labour leadership, the Tories are ramping up their assault on protest laws and attempting to spread division over the march on the 11th of November. In higher education, Gillian Keegan called on universities to crack down on their own students and encouraged vice-chancellors to make use of the government’s anti-terrorist “Prevent” system to deal with outspoken student organisers, chilling evidence of the Tories spiral into antidemocratic and draconian policies.

More than 3000 academics have signed an open letter to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) expressing concern over the “wave of repression and attempts at censorship” spearheaded by the government against academic freedom. The open letter, supported by many student organising groups, also criticises the Secretary of State for misrepresenting the comments by a member of the advisory panel, and opposes the Tories attempt at political interference in the decision-making and governance of UKRI.

Throughout the 20th Century, Students Unions and grassroots organisations played a crucial role in fighting militarism and apartheid- from organising protests against the British government’s involvement and support for war in Korea and Vietnam- to leading boycotts against goods and services linked to apartheid South Africa. As Israel’s assault on Gaza shows no signs of ending, and members of Israel’s legislative branch call for the expulsion of Palestinians in a ‘second Nakba’, all our actions matter, and campaigners and organisers in the UK must continue to amplify calls for an end to Israel’s siege, occupation of Palestinian land, and for an immediate halt to the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza. It is also vital that we resist the government’s authoritarian attempts to crack down on free speech and demonise and isolate pro-Palestinian groups and activists.

Featured image: A local demonstration in Tumbridge Wells hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on November 4th, 2023. Photo credit: Palestine Solidarity Campaign/Twitter

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