The University of Leeds has seen an occupation that has lasted exactly one week in support of the Palestinian people, who are suffering at the hands of the merciless Israeli Government.
We demanded that the University extended our solidarity to the down-trodden and oppressed people of Palestine by condemning the brutal Israeli attacks. Furthermore, we demanded that the University open its books to the public so that we could see which companies they invested in, and that subsequently they divest from all companies supporting the racist Israeli government, that the University send educational materials to Palestinian universities and to create at least 5 new scholarships for Palestinian students to come and study at the University of Leeds.
In response to our demands, the University made the following concessions:
On Monday, the Vice Chancellor issued a public statement in which he "expressed his dismay at the conflict and the loss of life in Gaza and Israel." The University has declared that it is "agreeable in principle to facilitating schemes to provide surplus educational materials to Palestine...and that it will discuss with LUU (Leeds University Union) ways of extending opportunities for Palestinian students to study at Leeds." The University has also stated that it will review its socially responsible investment policy and that it will accept a list of roughly a dozen companies which concern us most and they will inform us whether they do or do not invest in the aforementioned companies. We will actively pursue all of these concessions to ensure that they are followed through.
Obviously these compromises are not enough in relation to the enormity of the humanitarian crisis taking place in Palestine at this moment in time, however the actions of the University itself made full negotiations entirely impossible. The University attempted to split, disorientate and intimidate the peaceful occupiers of Botany House in a vain effort to weaken our resolve. First the University cut the LAN internet access to the building in a fruitless attempt to hamper our ability to communicate with the wider world and trying to cause a rift between the occupiers and the PhD students and staff using the building at the same time. After a few days the University cut off the gas supply to the building, leaving us with no heating as a further attempt to dishearten us. During one set of negotiation talks between our delegates and the Vice Chancellor, vague threats were made about turning off the electricity, a truly shameful and underhand tactic. Throughout the occupation we maintained a strong relationship with the PhD students who continued working in the building (all support staff were relocated), many of them voicing strong interest and support for our cause and our actions.
There were further limits to the effectiveness of our campaign due to a lack of support from some of the pro-Palestinian activists and some parts of the left on campus. Members of the exec at LUU used scare tactics to mobilise people away from the occupation and attempted to dissuade pro-Palestine activists from joining the occupation by announcing that the police would storm the building at night, a completely unfounded and treachorous statement. This kind of action has illustrated the lack of radicalism and real support from pro-Palestine exec members, who hide behind their rhetoric to maintain credibility whilst attempting to destroy the most militant aspects of protest in order to further their appeal to mainstream students.
Within the occupation itself we have been vocal in our willingness to engage the wider public, as well as supporting PhD students by allowing them in to continue their work. We were helpful and amicable to people of all political viewpoints, engaging in debates with autonomous individuals and members of the Labour Students society and the zionists which misrepresent JSOC on campus.
There was a huge array of groups within the occupiers and everyone got along well, worked together cohesively and were united together in our cause, though political debates were continuous and dialogue and left-wing banter was a central topic of conversation between the occupiers. Similarly, unaffiliated occupiers and activists were treated with the upmost respect. This illustrates that left groups and autonomous activists CAN work together and that the idea that there is no unity or solidarity on the left is a myth, nothing more.
With respect to the wider movement, we would like to express our solidarity with universities which are still occupying as well as those universities which acheived some or all of their goals and those which were ejected without demands being met. Within our occupation students have expressed a complete discontent with NUS, particularly after the passing of the governance review, and feel that a new students union is required to truly represent students and the issues which affect them and which they are concerned about. Therefore, we are calling for a conference of all universities who wish to split from the NUS and disassociate themselves from the oppresive bureaucracy which it represents. We would like to stress the importance of networking and making links between pro-Palestinian groups across the country and the planet, particularly the groups who have been involved in occupations, because continuing our struggle and our fight on behalf of the Palestinian people is paramount to this occupation.
Thank you for all your support,
The occupiers of Botany House.