Globalising the Intifada – Students in Britain Show the Way

By Darren C – Frank Ryan Society, UCD

Over the last couple of weeks, a wave of student occupations have taken place across Britain in protest against the barbarous Israeli assault on Gaza. The occupations have all made similar demands on their university managements, including immediate divestment from companies with military contracts and links to Israel, educational equipment be sent to Gaza, an amnesty for students involved in the protests and occupations, and a fundraising day for Gaza to help rebuild things that Gaza destroyed.

The occupations are redolent of the kind of action that took place during the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s and more recently against the invasion of Iraq. However, this is the first time that students have gone into occupation over the question of Palestine, mainly because students in the past have often been deterred by the defamatory charge of ‘anti-Semitism’.


Tony Greenstein, a Jewish socialist based in Brighton, rejects the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and rationalises the students’ sense of purpose: When people see children burnt alive by phosphorous bombs, when their schools and clinics and doctors homes are attack by the barbarians of the Israeli state, then no amount of ‘anti-Semitism’ charges will wash”


Student Occupations in Solidarity with Gaza Spread


It was the School of Oriental and African Studies in London that showed the way forward by occupying a gallery that was hosting a Ministry of Defence Exhibition on British Colonial wars. Two days later, students at the London School of Economics occupied the Old Theatre, calling for divestment from BAE Systems, a firm that provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. They also demanded that LSE should provide fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students.


Those two actions precipitated a torrent of occupations in Sussex University, Essex University, Warwick University, Cambridge University, Leeds University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Oxford University and many others. Even students based in traditional bastions of ruling-class privilege, such as King’s College in London, jumped in on the act to express solidarity with Gazans and to highlight the inactions of university management and New Labour.


In Manchester Metropolitan University, management attempted to starve the occupying students into submission, but their efforts were undermined by UNISON and UCU members who brought them food and hot drinks, as well as organising printing for them. At Leeds University, a number of the occupiers joined a city centre protest on Gaza last Saturday and spoke from the platform. Afterwards, they had a meeting on campus of about 50 people on the war, the ceasefire and why they were occupying.


Déjà Vu – the Zionist’s Gamble Backfires


All the occupations fleshed out a thorough and militant list of demands. A number of the occupations, including those at SOAS, LSE, Oxford and Essex, won most of them. A major explanation for the college authorities’ concessions was that the mass protests and occupations against the assault caught a wider mood. The public support for actions against Zionist aggression herald an entirely new shift politically and demonstrate that the horror perpetrated in Gaza may have caused the Zionist movement lasting damage.


Israel engineered this conflict to rehabilitate their military’s deterring capability in the Middle East, heavily damaged after its defeat in the Lebanon war of 2006. Its aim was to unleash an implacable vengeance upon the people of Gaza and their democratically elected leaders, Hamas, for daring to resist. Far from removing Hamas from power, Israel succeeded in cementing their position as the legitimate political leadership. The reputation of Israel’s stooge, Mahmoud Abbas, lies in tatters, while workers across the Middle East mobilised in their thousands against the duplicity and cowardice of their own rotten leaderships.

The principal reason behind Israel’s defeat was the heroism and resoluteness of the Gaza population and the resistance forces. Up to the day of the ceasefire, rockets were still being fired into Israel from Gaza. The implication from this is that Hamas has retained much of its military capacity. Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas have created a sense of confidence that our rulers are not invincible, and have won the admiration and solidarity of millions in the process.


But the other major contributing factor for Israel’s failure was the huge international movement against their Gaza onslaught. The movement was bigger than the solidarity movement at the time of the Lebanon war in 2006; at one point – on 9th and 10th January – 1¼ million people around the world showed their solidarity with the Palestinian people on the street. Alongside the occupations of schools and colleges, there were near daily militant pickets outside Israeli and US embassies and weekly mass demonstrations.


Learning the Lessons

The black masses in South Africa demanded that workers internationally should exert pressure to destroy the South African economy, understanding that this would aid the political crisis by which they could build their own independent working-class resistance. That is why the boycott is a key tactic in the coming period. We must force Israel to pay a heavy price politically and economically for their crimes.

Not for the first time, students are at the forefront of decisive and militant struggles aimed at isolating Israel as a racist apartheid state. Their small victories, forcing divestment in Israel by educational institutions, set an example for trade unions and the student movement in Ireland to follow.


Trade unions once played a crucial role in delegitimising apartheid in South Africa. The Dunnes Stores Strike against apartheid ran for almost three years from June 1984 to April 1987, eventually persuading the Irish government to implement economic sanctions against South Africa. The trade union movement need to take a more determined and proactive role in applying pressure on the Irish government to do the same to Israel. Self-serving liberal indignation from the bureaucrats isn’t enough; action is required.


Students in Britain have demonstrated we can build on the victory and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, by building on our own small victories in our workplace, towns and universities. We must continue to build this solidarity and move in a more militant direction.


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