Oxford students occupy Bodleian Library in solidarity with Palestinians

A group of around 80 Oxford students occupied the historic Bodleian Library at Oxford University today in support of Palestinians and to protest the university's policies towards Israel, notably calling for divestment from Oxford's stake in the British arms manufacturer BAE Systems, a statement of support from the university in reaction to Israel's bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza, and the cancellation of a series of lectures inaugurated by Israeli President Shimon Peres (which the students had earlier staged a protest against). They are also asking for scholarships to be created for Palestinian students and support for Palestinian academia.

Their full statement is after the jump. The students have a blog, Occupied Oxford, a Twitter feed and a YouTube page with videos of the occupation of the library.

The question of an academic boycott of Israel and universities' divestment from companies that sell weapons to Israel has a long history in Britain, and this kind of smart initiative is good news. Eight other universities are staging similar protests and occupations: Birmingham, Essex, King's College London, London School of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, Sussex and Warwick. OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS OCCUPY BUILDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH GAZA

In the first week of term, over 80 Oxford University students have occupied the historic Bodleian building to demand that the university releases a statement condemning the attack on Gaza and cancel the lecture series at Balliol College inaugurated by Shimon Peres.

Students organised the sit in after attending an emergency meeting in Oxford organised to discuss the war on Gaza and the precarious ceasefire. Members of the University entered the Clarendon building and sat down at 1200, British time, on Thursday 22nd January. Their demands were presented to University officials.

The group represents a broad spectrum of concerned students and has the support of peace campaigners here in Oxford. They want the University Proctor to express solidarity with Palestinian academic community and condemning the attack on the educational infrastructure.

“Palestinians have the same rights as we do, including the right to education as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We are proud to be students at Oxford University and do not want the University to contribute in any way to the undermining of the right to education. It is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of humanity,” a spokesperson said.

Students demand that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres. The group are also demanding that Oxford University divests from arms firm BAE Systems, an arms company who supply the Israeli military.

“The fact that Oxford University invests in BAE Systems means that it is directly profiting from the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Our University cannot be funded by unlawful military aggression. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other arms companies immediately.

Students have also issued several demands related to providing material support for Palestinian students including providing 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students and resources for education in Gaza.

Numerous Oxford academics as well as the Oxford University Islamic Society, the Oxford Palestine Society, the Oxford Indian and the Oxford Pakistan societies have already signed petitions condemning the Israeli attack on Gaza.

DEMANDS IN FULL

1) Statement
Oxford University should release a statement in support of the right of Palestinians to education and its support to the Palestinian Academic community. The University should condemn in particular the attack on the Islamic University in Gaza.

2) Divestment
Oxford University currently holds investments in BAE Systems, a firm that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (caat.org.uk) states provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. This means that our university is being directly funded by the Israeli war on Gaza. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other companies which supply arms to Israel.

3) 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students.
Particularly after the attack on Gaza and the ongoing hardships suffered by Palestinians, Oxford University should offer 5 fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students as a way to contribute to greater access to education for those affected by the conflict.

4) A cancellation lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres
The group demands that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series that was inaugurated by the Israeli President Shimon Peres. It is not appropriate to have such a lecture series in light of the attack on Gaza and the ongoing siege.

5) Resources for Education.
The Oxford University should donate resources to, and support, the University and educational infrastructure that have been bombed in Gaza.

6) Right to Peaceful Protest
Oxford University has a proud history of student activism. Students united to campaign against apartheid, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All students have a democratic right to peaceful protest and students should not be prevented from expressing their opinions by fear of reprisals.

MEDIA CONTACTS FOR THE STUDENT GROUP

Juliette Harkin 07740818376
Omar al-Shehabi 07966570155 (for Arabic media)

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1) Oxford University is the 8th University to go into occupation and joins SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Essex, Kings College London, Birmingham and Sussex universities.

2) The Oxford University occupation follows on from emergency meetings about Gaza and a well orchestrated protest in October 2007 against the decision of Balliol College, Oxford University, to inaugurate a lecture series in the name of Shimon Peres, president of Israel and responsible for atrocities against the Palestinian people.