Protesters fly the Palestinian flag

Over 1000 people sign open letter to University of Cambridge regarding violence in Palestine

The open letter demands the University cut ties with all companies that are ‘complicit in supporting Israel’s violations of international law’

C/W: References to violence and conflict 

An open letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Stephen Toope, expressing concern about recent violence in Palestine has received 1570 signatures.

The open letter, initiated by Cambridge Palestine Solidarity Society (PalSoc), states that its signatories “stand in solidarity with Palestinians”, as they are “deeply concerned” about “the violence enacted by the Israeli state and racist Israeli groups against Palestinians.”

The letter continues, saying its signatories are “deeply angered” by the role played by the University of Cambridge, who are “perpetuating [Palestinians’] oppression” through “institutional links and partnerships” with companies whose products are used by Israel to enact policies condemned by Human Rights Watch as constituting the “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

They address Toope as a “scholar of human rights and international law”, who is thus “well placed to comprehend the gravity of the situation”, and the letter hopes that Toope will “see the acute contradiction between the core values of the University and its links with corporations and institutions perpetuating these injustices.”

The letter demands that the University of Cambridge issue a public statement expressing “solidarity with Palestinians’ quest for freedom and justice” and condemning the ongoing ethnic cleansing and racist assaults against Palestinians.

They also ask that the University denounces Israeli use of “excessive and disproportionate force” on Gaza as a “flagrant form of collective punishment of a vulnerable population”, particularly its targeting of schools, universities, professors and students.

The third demand is for a plan outlining the concrete steps the University will take in solidarity, including a formal review of institutional ties with all corporations implicated in illegal Israeli policies, immediately severing formal links and partnerships with all “companies and institutions deemed complicit”, and supporting Palestine student activism on campus, including holding the University accountable for “violations of academic freedom.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as of 2020, found that 116 UK universities have investments in companies that are “complicit in supporting Israel’s violations of international law”, according to the open letter. The University of Cambridge is amongst those with the highest investments, standing at an estimate of £109,820,000, which the open letter dubs “shameful.”

According to the open letter, the Cambridge Service Alliance’s website counts as “partners” companies “directly involved in advancing the settler colonisation of Palestinian lands”, including BAE systems – which provides weapons to Israel, used by the Israeli military in their bombing campaigns against Gaza and elsewhere – and Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers used by Israel to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes and construct illegal Israeli settlements.

A petition from 2018, signed by nearly 40 student societies and over 60 academic staff, also made demands relating to BAE Systems and Caterpillar, but was dismissed by the Vice-Chancellor on the grounds that these partnerships “do not pertain to military operations.”

Cambridge spin-off company Q-Flo, which has close links to the University’s Department of Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, is partnered with Israeli armoured vehicle manufacturer, Plasan Sasa Ltd, a supplier to the Israeli police and army.

The Cambridge University Palestine Solidarity Society provided a final comment in the open letter: “We want to be part of a university that supports the emancipation of the oppressed, not their further subjugation and oppression. We want the University of Cambridge to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We want our institution to be on the right side of history.”

They told The Tab Cambridge: “We have a released this open letter to the University calling on concrete support for Palestinians whose basic human rights and freedoms are being curtailed by the Israeli state.

“[…] We want to belong to a University that stands against racism, state sanctioned violence and ethnic cleansing, not one that is complicit in it- if you feel the same way, please use your voice and sign our letter.”

As of 16th May, the most recent round of Israeli bombings has left more than 200 Palestinians dead, including 58 children. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has condemned the killing of civilians and is “shocked by the level and scale of destruction” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem (the Israeli human rights organisation) and numerous Palestinian human rights organisations have attested that Palestinians’ daily lives are defined by apartheid structures of oppression, including illegal Israeli interference with Palestinian mobility via checkpoints and closures and ethnic cleansing. 

The University Press Office has been contacted for comment. 

Feature image credit: George Ellison