As I type this I’m sitting inside George Square Lecture Theatre, which I’d say is quite an unusual thing to do at 2.30 in the morning. At 12 midday yesterday, several activists at the University of Edinburgh moved into this hall and refused to leave until several demands were met by the university, and although negotiations have been taking place, the occupation is still ongoing. The initial demands, which I consider fairly reasonable, are as follows:
1. Boycott: That the universityimmediately suspend all contracts and relations with companies enabling the conflict and/or occupation, including Eden Springs. This demand is contingent on access to information to establish which other companies, eg. Agrexco-Carmel are implicated.
2. Disinvestment: That the university divest from and cut all links – specifically on-campus recruitment – with BAE Systems, MBDA, QinetiQ, Rolls Royce and all other “arms and defence” manufacturers whose products are proven to be in use by the Israeli military.
3. Scholarships: That the university make full scholarships available to at least 5 university students in Gaza, allowing them to attend Edinburgh University – this is specifically in response to the destruction of their universities by the Israeli military, and otheracademic restrictions which violate their human right to education.
4. Aid: That the university collect and make available non-monetary donations to war-damaged Gazan schools and hospitals, including but not limited to text-books, chairs, computers.
5. Education: That the university provide logistical and financial suport for a series of informative lectures and debates, involving university staff and guest speakers, on the Palestine/Israel question during the academic year 2009/10
Regular readers may notice that I’ve so far been silent on the Gaza conflict. This is because I recognise that my view, which is that Israel has no right to exist, is not the best way to achieve peace in the region, and that’s what we all want.
At about 1, we finished a discussion on the response the university gave to the first round of negotiations. Everything is being decided using a fairly effective consensus system, which means it takes quite a long time, but I think the benefits far outweight the disadvantages. There are other frustrations: the people who come to these kinds of protests, not that I’m being overly critical, tend to finish all their sentences as if it were a question (long term readers may remember I have a big beef with that), and sometimes use vocabulary which is clear to people they’re used to campaigning with, but not to others. That said, people are getting along surprisingly well so far and we all know we’re here for a reason. There are about 40 people here now, but I did a quick count during the discussion and there were over 50, and when I was here this evening before our Darwin Day celebrations there were many more, including a lot of non-student protestors, such as the Socialist Workers.
So, depending on how long the occupation goes on, I may be reporting from here over the weekend. Similar demands have been met in Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities, and I’m told there are 26 such occupations happening in universities around the UK, so I don’t think it’s too optimistic to be hopeful.