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In November, students from London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) occupied part of their campus in support of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Gaza. Their campaign gained widespread support from both students and academics, including Noam Chomsky, and the activist Ilan Pappe. The novelist and film maker, Tariq Ali, addressed students at the packed Brunei Suite under occupation.
The SOAS campaign was student UGM mandated, and brought about as a direct result of the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip (Operation Pillar of Cloud), with the primary objective being a collective expression of solidarity with the Palestinians living in Gaza. A leading member of the campaign, Cate Inverso, told Nouse: "In order to reinforce our solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza,the occupation made certain demands of SOAS management, inclusive of full scholarships for a number of students from Gaza, the coupling of SOAS with a Gazan university ( the proposed one being Al-Aqsa University), and that no punitive measures be taken against students and staff that are part of and/or associated to the occupation."
The Palestinian society were initially opposed. Cate explained, "they certainly did not oppose our cause, however they did express their concerns regarding the manner in which the occupation was exerting pressure upon management. Specifically, the possibility of our activism resulting in unofficial punitive measures being taken against the Palestine Society as a whole, or even the undermining of the Palestinian cause on campus. This is precisely why SOAS Occupy for Gaza was utterly insistent that our demand of no punitive measures be taken as a result of our activism, whilst asserting that the occupation and the Palestine Society were separate entities. Ultimately, that no one would pay a price for the expression of unfaltering solidarity with the people of Gaza, was non-negotiable."
The SOAS Palestine Society are central to the campaign to promote the Palestinian cause on campus. They are incredibly pro-active, and have successfully campaigned for many years, building relationships within SOAS. Did Cate believe student protest was an effective means of procuring reform and would she urge other students to take action?
"Institutions of higher education are tasked with the responsibility of nurturing an environment in which people can openly express themselves, whilst promoting a culture in which people can do so without fear of retribution. Consequently, as students we are afforded an opportunity to protest in the face of injustice or immorality.
"It would be a travesty if we, as catalysts for a progressive political outlook, were to remain reticent. Ultimately, when proportions of a student body protest, it is incumbent upon management to acknowledge and address the concerns of its student body; they cannot afford not to. If you think of a university as a business, we, as students, are its clientele. They cannot afford to disregard us and our concerns.
"As far as our success this far in concerned, the most noteworthy is that SOAS management will be negotiating with us over the full post-graduate scholarships for Gazan undergraduates and the coupling of SOAS with a Gazan university through our respective student unions."
SOAS Occupy for Gaza would encourage the student body at York to push for scholarship and twinning initiatives of their own. "Ultimately, as individual institutions, we cannot affect pervasive reforms, however, if many institutions of higher education across the UK were to supply scholarships and twinning opportunities for Palestinian students/universities, the system of higher education in the UK could play an instrumental role in helping Palestinians empower themselves."
The campaign is currently committed to negotiations with management. The students are determined to secure their demands, and have created an online petition, whereby people who support the campaign can support them through signing the petition.