Exclusive: Bristol students camp overnight in Victoria Rooms in pro-Palestine protest

The conversations, camaraderie and demands made by the Bristol Uni students from our own reporter inside


At 2:30pm on Friday (8th March) Laura joined 10 other students in entering the University of Bristol Victoria Rooms, intending to occupy until their demands are met. They want the university to cut ties with Israeli-aligned arms companies, publicly condemn the genocide in Gaza, and commit to free speech.

Participants Emi and Sam told The Bristol Tab they have around 20 people outside to support them, providing food, water and sanitary supplies. The students are prepared to stay as long as it takes to meet their demands. With them, they have sleeping bags, pillows, water and food ready to camp out and stay as long as they need. Both students and staff have offered their support in facilitating their protest. One lecturer working in the building offered their number to help with provisions. They expect to stay indefinitely until the university takes action.

Credit: Laura Butler, The Bristol Tab

The occupation started with a statement of intention to occupy delivered to the building’s security personnel after they told the group they couldn’t protest inside the building.

Once inside, the group discussed all the possibilities for renewing the university’s policies on partnership and ethics – they acknowledged the need to keep their demands concise. They want staff and students to support them in protesting who the university associates with and invests in.

Spirits are high with an aura of solidarity and hope. Camaraderie and humour fill the room as the gravity of the action they’re undertaking sinks in.

The occupation marks the latest escalation of campus protest surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. In late 2023 students protested in Senate House, claiming the university “profits from genocide” and “handles blood money”.

Credit: The Bristol Tab

As the afternoon progressed, the protestors sat and discussed the importance of student activism – from apartheid in South Africa to the Chilean Pinochet dictatorship. As it stands every university in Gaza has been destroyed; they said we are not unaware of the privilege granted to us to even partake in this action.

Bristol University has its own history of protest occupation. In 2022 a group of students took over the Great Hall in Wills Memorial Building in support of UCU staff strikes. The students remained in the building for two weeks before leaving.

This morning the group Friends of Palestine meet with Evelyn Welch, Bristol University’s Vice Chancellor, to discuss the university’s relationship with Israel, but they found it to be unsatisfactory. Speaking to the crowd of protestors, the students described the meeting as “fine” but that are still determined to pursue their full list of demands which can be found in the open letter circulated this week. Note these demands are from the occupiers, not Friends of Palestine.

The letter encourages students to commit to a boycott of the university attendance check-in app which is developed by Israeli company Ex Libris.

Supplies for the students inside the Victoria Rooms

The students have stated that to end their occupation the following requirements must be met by the University:

Demands that must be met in full to end the occupation:

  1. Call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and acknowledge the ICJ ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide.
  2. Cease the harassment and intimidation of Palestinian students and protect Palestinian students from harassment.
  3. Commit to full demilitarisation by signing the Demilitarise Education Treaty.
  4. Commit to free speech on campus by confirming that staff or students will not be punished for anti-Zionist beliefs confirming the university’s support for peaceful student protest
  5. Replace the IHRA working definition of antisemitism with a definition such as the JDA with approval from students and staff.
  6. Immediately end the requirement for students to use the Check-In app.

Demands for which we require a meaningful public statement of commitment to action:

  1. Immediately cut ties with arms companies complicit in Israel’s attacks
  2. Commit to engaging with staff and students in finding and implementing a democratic system in which any future partnerships or investments are only enabled if passed by the staff and student body.
  3. Offer full transparency with regard to its partnerships and investments.
  4. Offer scholarships to displaced Palestinian students and contribute to the rebuilding of destroyed Palestinian educational facilities alongside condemning educide.

Demands for their occupation:

  1. Confirm that no students partaking in the peaceful occupation will be subject to repercussions.
  2. We request open access to the occupation for all students and staff who may wish to join or leave

Image credit: The Bristol Tab

The security guards told the group they are here to keep them safe and will not interfere with the protest however long it lasts. It is clear that the students including Emi, Phoebe, Amos, Damien and Sam are in this for the long haul.

This latest action joins a growing tide of student activism on campus with numerous open letters including a call to boycott the university check-in app and a renewal of the SU code of conduct around sexual assault. This student upheaval has been felt nationally with action seen in Cambridge, UCL and a similar occupation held in Goldsmiths Uni.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said about the occupation: “We respect our students’ freedom of speech and right to protest. Our Vice-Chancellor is always happy to talk with students about their concerns, meeting with the Friends of Palestine Society just this morning.

“We recognise the distress and impact on all staff and students at the University of the ongoing violence and conflict in the Middle East.”It is more important than ever that we sustain our shared values of mutual respect, support, and compassion for each other, whatever our individual views on the conflict.

“We will continue to engage with the students occupying the Victoria Rooms to ensure their safety and those of others using the building.”

Featured image credit: The Bristol Tab

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