'My student protest gives hope to my father that Palestine will be free in his lifetime'

Demonstrator tells The National she wanted to show her parent in real-time the moment students took over a London School of Economics building

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As students at the London School of Economics poured into a campus building to set up a protest against the university's links with Israel, one of the Palestinian demonstrators called up Face Time on her phone and showed the live stream to her father.

Farah, 23, told The National she was able to share with her father, who has been exiled from his homeland since leaving to study, the “very emotional and humanising experience'” that gave him hope Palestine could be free in his lifetime.

Students took over The Marshall Building on Monday and have been hunkering down in tents for days while the management responds to their demands, set out in a 116-page report, calling for the university’s financial ties to companies that support Israel.

The students are calling for the university to end its investments worth more than £48.5 million in 80 companies “involved in crimes against the Palestinian people”.

Farah, who asked for her surname to be withheld, said she had family in the West Bank but her father has been unable to return since leaving to study abroad.

“I showed him all these students that were starting the encampment and were chanting and ready to take such action,” she said.

“He was also very emotional because, unfortunately, for decades the suffering of Palestinians has not only been silenced but it has been condoned, it has been normalised.

“My father has been following this story really since the beginning and he’s always said that this generation will free Palestine.”

When The National visited this week, the students were joined by a delegation from nearby King’s College London offering noisy support.

Chants for Palestine

The keffiyeh-clad students chanting of “raise your voice, raise your voice” in Arabic and the accompaniment of drums burst the usual calm of a drizzly weekday lunchtime at the campus in central London.

The LSE occupation is the latest demonstration by pro-Palestinian students that began in the US and have now spread to the UK in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. This followed the Hamas-led attacks on Israeli communities on October 7.

Most have been outdoor encampments at universities including Oxford and Cambridge, with the LSE occupation and one at Goldsmiths, University of London, in south-east London, the two that have taken over buildings.

The demands of the students centre on the common theme of ending investment in Israel and companies involved in supplying it with weapons, as well as cutting academic ties with the country.

Farah believes the LSE action is part of a long tradition of student protest going back to demonstrations against the Vietnam War and Apartheid in South Africa.

“As a Palestinian it has been incredibly empowering and energising to be part of and to see encampments globally,” said Farah.

“We are part of a global movement who are committed to end complicity in genocide. British universities and a lot of other universities are complicit in these very grave crimes against humanity.

“So, we take a stance and we want to make sure that our voices are heard and that our demands are met by the institution.”

Security has been beefed up at the Marshall Building to prevent anyone else getting in, with normal activity continuing alongside students, who gather in a semi-circle to discuss their strategy in a “democratic” way.

Successful talks

Activists have been “working tirelessly” since November to compile their report, whose thoroughness had been “saluted” by academics at the institution, explained Farah.

The students also want the university to contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza’s universities and to allocate funds for a scholarship for Palestinian students.

So far, students appear to have achieved some success in getting other universities to agree to their demands.

Students at Trinity College Dublin ended a five-day protest after the university agreed to divest from Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.

The university said that “an agreement was reached” after “successful talks between the university's senior management and the protesters”.

The senate of the University of Barcelona approved a motion in support of Palestine on Wednesday.

Students at Goldsmiths University in London ended their occupation of the library when they said the management had agreed to “review and revise” the institution’s investment strategy as well as agreeing to fund undergraduate scholarships for Palestinian students.

Students occupying the LSE “are not going anywhere, even with exams coming up”, insists Farah, who's studying for a master's degree in European and international public policy.

“We are a group of students that are devoted and dedicated to Palestinian liberation and to making sure that none of the funds that students pay through their tuition will go in funding a genocide,” she said.

While protests at Columbia University in New York ended with 100 students being arrested, in the UK the actions of students have been peaceful, though some students have expressed concerns about anti-Semitism.

Jewish students at the LSE should have nothing to fear from the occupation, insists Farah.

“We have Jewish students among us, that have been some of the biggest supporters of the movement since its very beginning,” she said.

In response, the LSE repeated the statement it issued earlier in the week saying it would “carefully consider the report submitted by the protest group and respond in due course” and “will also continue to engage in a peaceful dialogue”.

Updated: May 18, 2024, 10:17 AM