Sunday, 25 January 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you here?
We have been occupying the Law Faculty since Friday evening, to protest against Israel’s recent actions in Gaza. We are demanding that the University issue a statement condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza and the continuing blockade. We also demand aid to Palestinian universities in the form of scholarships, books and fundraising, as well as disinvestment from the arms trade complicit in this humanitarian disaster. See the rest of our blog for more information

Why aren’t you condemning Hamas? Is that not one-sided?
We have debated whether to call for a condemnation of Hamas in our demands, before deciding to focus on how best the University could alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Ultimately, this occupation was called purely in response to Israel’s recent actions in the Gaza Strip. It is not a question of supporting or opposing Hamas, or supporting or opposing Israel. It is a question of human rights on both sides. We do not condone the organised killing of civilians. Whatever your view of the last sixty years, we believe that the recent actions of the Israeli state are both disproportionate and counter-productive. They will not further the cause of peace, and have created immense suffering in the process. It is against this that we wish to protest.

Why aren’t you going through legitimate channels?
We tried at the very beginning of term. However our calls to CUSU to pass an urgent motion on this issue were blocked for bureaucratic reasons. We are still trying to pass a CUSU motion, and hope that CUSU as our representative will act urgently to support the people of Palestine. However, there is a deeper problem. As members of the University administration have admitted, the traditional channels for communication with the University move at glacial speeds. The campaign for arms trade disinvestment has been running for over a decade, without tangible results. We have held protest marches, collected thousands of signatures, held a huge ‘penny the Arch-chancellor’ campaign, and passed motions through CUSU. And yet in 2005 we were still the biggest academic investor in the arms trade in the UK. We will not wait ten years to help Gaza. We need action now.

What good is the occupation going to do?
There have been seventeen student demonstrations going on around the country. Five have finished, and every single one had some of their demands met. LSE granted many demands, among them the condemnation of Israeli attacks on Palestinian universities, a cross-campus fundraising day for Medical Aid for Palestinians, and for old books and computers to be sent to Palestinian universities. Essex funded scholarships for Palestinian students, among other concessions. Student demonstrations can and do work. We can disinvest from the arms trade, send aid to Palestine and get the University to condemn violence against educational institutions. With your support, we can make a difference.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You might be interested to review the history of Cambridge for a moment.

    In 1970, a peaceful protest of Cambridge students at the Garden House Hotel degenerated into a riot. The demonstration was aimed at the military government in Greece at the time.

    The ringleaders were tried and given prison sentences (6-12 months) by a judge, Melford Stevenson. The subsequent appeal judgment reads as follows:

    "One thing is clear, however, that no one can claim to escape a proper length of custodial sentence by virtue of social background or of education."

    "As has already been stated, a common purpose of thus disrupting by tumult the peaceful pursuits of other citizens whether at their work or in proper enjoyment of their leisure is unlawful in this country, even if unaccompanied by acts of frightening violence."

    Also, in more recent history of Britain, there were large scale protests against both the Iraq War and Top-up Fees. Both failed comprehensively to deter the government.

  3. By the way, the University is a charity and as such is banned by law from political activity. That was decided in a case called McGovern v Attorney General if you want to look it up. Now the reason why this is a problem is because if the University loses its charitable status, it is dissolved by operation of law and its assets revert to the state. If you don't believe me, see section 13 of the Charities Act 1993.


    A lawyer whose faculty you are in the process of ruining.

  4. Re: "Why aren’t you condemning Hamas?"

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer this question. I just wish you'd answer it better. You are equivocating and equivocating and equivocating, repeatedly calling for a condemnation of Israel's actions while repeatedly wriggling out of saying these simple words:

    "We also condemn Hamas's actions."

    My impression is that some of the people in your group are seeing both sides and only care about human rights -- while others see this as a one-sided political protest. I hope the first lot wins out.

  5. I would like to make a quick correction to your post there. Essex did not agree to provide scholarships to Palestinian people as a result of the protest. It was agreed to treat Gaza as they do any other conflict area such as Iraq. This would have probably been considered anyway, but it is impossible to know now.
    They also agreed to look into reinstating a Book donation project, with Gaza being the recipient. None of the protesters other demands were agreed to, including the demand that they not be punished.

  6. Bob,

    The situation wrt charities has changed since 1982. New guidelines allow significantly more room for charities to take action on human rights abuses. Seeing as major human rights organisations have stated that Israel committed widespread abuse of human rights during their invasion, condemning Israeli actions falls within the remit of a charity.


    Reasons for condemning Israel but not Hamas:
    1. Condemning Hamas would make it seem like the violence was proportionate. So far the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli civilians killed is well over 200:1 (according to some figures closer to 300:1). The word "disproportionate" is not quite strong enough to capture the difference.
    2. The UK is not giving political and military support to Hamas, but they are to Israel. As such, it is more important to urge major UK institutions, especially ones that invest in the arms trade, to condemn Israel.
    3. The vast majority of people condemn Hamas's actions, and no-one is arguing that they are justified. By constrast, many feel that Israel's actions are justified, and argue as much. Therefore it is more important to try and turn the tide of people's opinions about Israel's actions; there is no such need when it comes to their views on Hamas.

  7. Condemning Hamas would give your campaign a lot more credibility. Why lose that credibility for such strange reasons?

    (1) Condemning Hamas would not lead anyone to think the deaths on both sides in the conflict were numerically equal. We all watch the news. It would just state the obvious: that there is wrongdoing on both sides.

    (2) I'm generally in favour of arms divestment. But how is that a reason not to condemn Hamas?

    (3) It's not true that no one supports Hamas. Maybe it's true that a "vast majority" sensibly condemn their rocket attacks and violent ideology. But if the law faculty protesters are in that majority, why not say as much?

    Yet you haven't. Could it be, perish the thought, that some of you are not in that sensible rational majority at all?

  8. Aren't you bored reading all the law books (especially if some of you don't even do law!

  9. To the Cambridge Gaza Solidarity Campaign

    I am writing to express my heartfelt support and admiration for you in your courageous occupation of the Law Faculty in support of Gaza. The Palestinian people have suffered decades of suffering, as a stateless people, uprooted from their true homeland and compelled to live in increasingly unbearable conditions. The world is slowly waking up to their plight, and actions like your own are vital in expanding public awareness of the situation. Palestinians are desperately in need of aid; but even more than that, they need a truly just political settlement and the right to have their own state. I do not condone the violent actions of Hamas, but my personal sense is that these largely ineffectual acts of aggression (when compared to the massive power of the Israeli war machine) are born of a desperate determination to put the tragedy of Palestine once more on the international agenda.

    As a former Cambridge student (King's 1973) I was an activist, serving as Deputy President of CUSU at one point. Dialogue with the University on contentious issues was never easy thirty years ago, so I have huge admiration for the tenacity and clarity you have shown on this vitally important issue. You have rekindled my hope and belief that the student movement is not dead! The idealism, vision, and ethical integrity of a new generation is desperately needed at this time, if our global community can at last begin to create a more just, caring and sustainable society.

    in solidarity

    Dr Philippa Berry
    University of Bristol

  10. "I do not condone the actions of Hamas, but ..."

    Philippa, what if these terrorists are not the freedom fighter desperados you think they are, but actually anti-semitic thugs in thrall to an ideological obsession with religious violence?

    What if they hold back rather than advance the ongoing peace process by (A) killing supporters of the internationally recognized leader of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and (B) refusing to renounce pursuing their cause by violent means?

    Would that change your "personal sense"?

    Best not to think about these things, eh?

  11. Indeed, condemning Hamas as well as Israel is the only way to gain more neutral support and to differentiate yourselves from the terrorists.

  12. What else can you expect from the activist left? There will be no condemnation of Hamas because many in the protest movement tacitly support them as "Freedom Fighers". Somehow, it makes not an iota of difference that Hamas purposefully target civilians. It is appauling that Israel has caused so many civilian casualties, but it is equally appauling that Hamas deliberately target civilians and furthermore, use their own civilians as human shields, lauching rockets from amongst them. Hamas is also to blame for trying to destabilise the government of Mahmoud Abbas.

  13. And that should be appalling, before anyone tries to shout my post down because of spelling.