UCL students protest university’s neutrality towards Israel-Gaza and tie ribbons for dead

Protestors demanded UCL issue a statement honouring killed poet and alumnus Refaat Alareer

Pro-Palestinian student protestors staged a demonstration of solidarity on Wednesday afternoon, in the latest in a continued programme of protests against multiple universities’ stances on the situation around Israel and Palestine.

Organised by London Student Action for Palestine, students from UCL, King’s College and SOAS met outside Woburn House in Bloombsury, where several speakers addressed the crowd, which rallied in support of the Palestinian cause.

Students then marched onto UCL’s Main Campus, entering through the Student Centre and proceeding up the stairs to the Japanese Garden, where they erected banners and tied ribbons around trees to commemorate victims of the conflict.

Protestors called for a “free Palestine” and criticised universities for their policy of neutrality in the conflict, taking aim at UCL’s continued refusal to issue a statement commemorating its alumnus Refaat Alareer who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in December.

Protestors held placards and chanted pro-Palestine slogans

After roughly fifteen minutes, the demonstrators attempted to re-enter the Student Centre but were blocked and refused access by several UCL campus security guards.

One organiser with a megaphone appealed to UCL Action for Palestine’s previous solidarity with the IWGB workers’ union – which represents outsourced UCL security guards – in their own protests. However, these pleas fell on deaf ears, and organisers led the group to the Main Quad.

Security guards blocked the entrance to the Student Centre

Amna Ghaffar, a UCL student and member of Action for Palestine, told The London Tab that today’s action was a direct response to UCL taking down commemorative ribbons that were tied around trees in the Main Quad in December.

She said: “As students, this is our attempt at making a memorial for all of the martyrs that have been killed in Palestine and we’re just hoping that once again UCL management don’t disrespect our memorial once again.”

Amna also called on UCL to “end their lies of political neutrality, to admit their complicity, to cut all ties with arms companies, stop this mobility scheme with universities in Israel, and to acknowledge the killing of Dr Refaat.”

Ribbon-tying in commemoration of the fallen

Another student in attendance, Sharon, explained that she was there in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. She told The London Tab: “I’m here to express my support for the Palestinian population and condemn apartheid and all of the actors involved in it.”

Sharon also criticised universities for not educating students enough on the Israel-Palestine conflict and colonisation more broadly.

She explained: “I think universities are extremely important, they’re hubs for young people, they teach and guide the next generation. It’s the universities’ responsibility to educate students on [these issues] whether they study politics or not because even the Engineering departments are complicit.”

In a message to the UCL Provost, Michael Spence, Sharon said: “I would urge the Provost to listen to the demands made by the extremely organised Student Action and Aid for Palestine and allow UCL teachers to demonstrate freely.”

 Amna also projected a resilient spirit among pro-Palestinian demonstrators, insisting that the society would continue to erect memorials as long as UCL takes them down.

She vowed: “We’re going to keep doing this again and again no matter how many times the UCL management stops us or takes our ribbons down, whatever they do.”

Reflecting on the general mood among the pro-Palestine contingent as the conflict recently surpassed 100 days, with over 25,000 reported deaths in Gaza, Amna insisted on solidarity.

She said: “We’re angry, we’re frustrated, but we’re all standing in solidarity because our struggle and frustration in organising these actions is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what people in Palestine are suffering.”

A UCL spokesperson said: “The ongoing violence and suffering in Gaza and Israel is terribly distressing and we recognise the deep impact it has had on UCL’s community, many of whom are directly affected and greatly concerned. We are working to support all those affected by this. We have also facilitated both peaceful protests, quiet vigils and other activities for a variety of student groups at UCL.”

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