The encampment on the lawn of the Queens’ Building © Social Streets CIC
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Students set up Palestine solidarity encampment at Queen Mary University of London

As pro-Palestinian encampments spread across UK universities, Tower Hamlets’ has the Mayor’s support.

Students from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) set up an encampment in solidarity with Palestine on Monday. The students are part of a growing trend of pro-Palestine encampments in UK universities, calling on their institutions to respond differently to the Israel-Gaza war. 

The group has set up tents on the lawn of the Queens’ Building indefinitely, drawing attention to student concerns about the university’s response to the Israel-Gaza war. They are demanding changes in QMUL’s policies, including divestments of funds connected to Israel and a boycott of Israeli universities. 

The encampment is part of growing dissent at the university. Recently more than 250 academics at QMUL signed an open letter calling on the university to condemn the arrest of Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian. 

She is a Palestinian professor who was arrested in Israel last month, following comments she made on a podcast about Hamas on October 7.

QMUL is one of many pro-Palestine encampments quickly appearing in UK universities, including those at UCL, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Bristol University, and the University of Edinburgh. 

Each encampment has its own set of demands, with many pledging to stay until they are met. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a meeting with university bosses, citing concern that the encampments would cause harassment and antisemitic abuse. 

In Tower Hamlets, the Palestinian debate has impacted local politicians. The borough has a Muslim population of almost 40%, the largest in England and Wales. Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali, was heavily criticised for not backing an immediate ceasefire in November 2023. Coming up to the General Election, some are speculating the move could cost her seat. 

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has continuously backed an immediate ceasefire. In April, Rahman removed Palestinian flags from council buildings, saying they were being used in media to further an Islamophobic narrative. On X, the Mayor declared that the members of the encampment at QMUL had his support, calling the movement a ‘historic international call for justice’. His tone is a sharp contrast to Sunak and the Government. 

The encampment has demanded that QMUL stop all investments in companies with Israeli ties, such as Booking.com, Barclays and Siemens. The students have also requested that the university condemn Israel’s military activity in Gaza, and call it genocide. 

Currently, the university uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, and an additional request is to switch to the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) definition, which allows more liberal criticism of Israel. In addition, the encampment is demanding the university boycott Israeli universities, and create scholarships for Palestinian students. 

In their letter, the encampment stresses that QMUL’s refusal to engage with its demands ‘contradicts its own policies and values, revealing its complicity in the oppression and killing of Palestinians in the occupied territories’. 

QMUL was approached for comment but has not yet responded. 

For more local news, read our article about Grow, Hackney’s fundraising campaign to survive amid a 400% rise in energy bills.

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3 thoughts on “Students set up Palestine solidarity encampment at Queen Mary University of London

  • This article is leaning in favour of the Hamas cause. Why are the question not asked, what does a so called free Palestine mean? If the students used some clear logic, what they in effect are asking for is ethnic cleansing of Jews and Christians, killing the only democracy in the Middle East there Arabs, women, and gays are freer to live and participate inn democracy than anywhere else in the Middle East. Handing back Gaza to Hamas would mean setting up a taliban-like state.

    Reply
    • Very well said, exactly my thoughts.

      Besides what the students do or don’t do, I am disappointed at how board this publication has become against Jews and Israel. I have been following and supporting this publication as a local resident for years, to be kept informed on local news, but I feel alienated by the heavily-biased stance in respect of the conflict in Israel-Gaza. If this publication is no longer about local news and events, I will no longer be supporting it. If you decide to talk about these topics, then you need to do so in a balanced and informed way. There is an underlying assumption that all readers agree with your stance and that is certainly not the case.

      Reply
  • I would invite authors of this article to reflect on the impartiality of this piece. The article pictures the pro-Palestinian stance as morally superior and the TH mayor as a champion of justice.
    The same mayor took no action on the flags for over 7 months despite many calling for their removal and has to eventually do so just because he was being pressed.
    I am proud that we live in a country that allows free expression so welcome that protests can occur. However I profoundly disagree with the anti Israeli rethoric which places responsibility for the response to 7 oct massacre on the entire Israeli society, a large part of which has for years sought peaceful resolution to the conflict. The divestment calls hit particularly that very part of Israeli society (liberal, progressive, cultured) that we should support.

    Reply

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