The students of the occupation of United College in St Andrews have announced victory after receiving a statement and accompanying assurances to review and investigate ties with Israel in light of the recent conflict in Gaza from the University today.
The statement, which was delivered to the 80 occupying students in attendance at 1 PM today, did not completely satisfy the occupation”s full demands. Students agreed that where the university had fallen short, it had opened up the avenues to keep many contentious issues firmly on the agenda. Additionally, it has firmly institutionalised St. Andrews Palestinian Solidarity Campaign participation in decision-making on procurement and research ethics working groups.
The protestors made five demands of the University. Firstly, that the University cancel its contract with Eden Springs, a company illegally bottling water from the Golan Heights. The University conceded their current policy was not sustainable, or in keeping with their position as a Fairtrade University and have pledged to switch to tap water at the soonest possible time. Whilst the University has not been willing to cancel the contract, a likely outcome of the the process will be that Eden Springs no longer receives any money from the University from 2010.
Students also campaigned for the University to apply the same ethical standards that they do to investment to procurement and research. The University has conceded that its position is inconsistent and will now regularly communicate its research proposals to the Students Association and the student body. Said Benjamin Wallo, a first-year Ancient History student, “We have initiated an increased commitment to transparency and student involvement. We are committed to ensuring that research for arms companies such as BAE is not renewed or encouraged.”
While the campaign was unable to secure 10 scholarships exclusively for Palestinian students, the University has promised to set up a scholarship programme for people whose studies have been interrupted by conflict and natural disaster. The campaign will be advising the University on this scheme, the first of its kind. “As this will, by definition, include Palestine as a conflict area, we are happy that the University has made a long-term commitment to people in these situations,” said Patrick O”Hare, second-year Social Anthropology student. The campaign has also received support from the university in setting up a charity to give long-term scholarship support to Palestinian students.
The University and the Student”s Association are currently reviewing long-term links with Universities in Palestine as part of a commitment to further its worldwide academic relationships. Said a spokesperson for the Islamic University of Gaza, “We would like to express our sincere thanks and deep appreciation to the students of St Andrews for all of their conscious efforts, endeavors and demands to support the right to education, justice and freedom in Palestine.” Said Danielle Dryburgh, a fifth-year student studying French, “We will continue to foster these links, to raise funds, and to show solidarity”.
Finally, the campaign has also secured a commitment to publisise an aid drive specifically to address the humanitarian crises caused by the recent incursion of Israel. The aid drive, which will be organised by students, will donate unused educational and medical supplies to the areas of Gaza worst affected.
The campaign has received support from Noam Chomsky, Rob Harper MSP, Sandra White MSP, Pauline McNeill MSP, the playwright Carol Churchill and many other people from across the world. Said Chomsky, “I am very pleased to learn about the courageous and honorable actions of the students at St. Andrews”. Robin Harper MSP expressed similar sentiments, “Well done – keep it up”. Pauline McNeill MSP was adamant that the actions of St. Andrews students were making a difference while Sandra White MSP said, “My faith in humanity has been lifted by you all”. Sheetal Kumar, a fourth-year International Relations student said, “We”re thankful for all of the people, both staff and students, who”ve continuously shown their support and the steadfast solidarity people from all over the world have shown.”
While the student occupation in St Andrews is coming to an end, the wider solidarity movement is just beginning – in the short time St Andrews was in occupation students in Plymouth, Cardiff, UEL and UAL(1) occupied key University buildings with similar demands to those of the St Andrews students. Georgie Davies, a first-year Philosophy student, “We offer our support and look forward to working closely with the solidarity campaigns in other universities.” Agreed Laila Sumpton, a fourth-year student studying English, “This is not the end, but the beginning”.