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University of Sheffield students set up encampment on campus to show solidarity with Palestine

Students worldwide have been setting up encampments on university campuses, and now a Sheffield coalition has followed suit.

Screenshot 2024 04 30 at 14 09 30

A person in New York holds aloft a Palestine scarf.

Unsplash/Hugo Breyer

Students at the University of Sheffield walked out of lectures today to demonstrate against the genocide in Palestine and the university’s links to the arms trade.

Following the example of student encampments worldwide, students have set out tents and gazebos outside the Students Union. Leading the walkout and encampment are Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP), who wrote in a press release:

Students at the University of Sheffield have today (1 May 2024) begun a mass encampment in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in protest against allegations of their university’s complicity in Israeli apartheid and the ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

SCCP are a coalition of staff, students, and alumni from both the University of Sheffield and Hallam University, with support from local trade unions and community activist groups.

Pro-Palestine encampments have been organised at universities around the world, including Columbia University, Yale, MIT, the Sorbonne University, and the University of Sydney. Remarkably, police in riot gear have violently attempted to disrupt students at encampments, including at Columbia University, the Sorbonne, Texas, and many more. The police are functioning to suppress dissent and protest, and here at Now Then we’ll be keeping a close eye on how universities in Sheffield treat the encampment.

University arms trade links

A student spokesperson for SCCP explained why the encampment has been set up:

The University has been found to have helped streamline and produce the very instruments of warfare Israel used in its ruthless and indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza. It is for that reason that we students have come to charge the university with complicity in the genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. Our demand is clear: divest now.

We, as students of the University of Sheffield, will not sit idly by and watch our institution wreak havoc in Palestine and across the Global South. We will continue to take action on campus, regardless of reprisal or repression, without hesitation or fatigue. We will continue to hold the mirror to the faces of the University’s administration, until they raise their gaze and acknowledge their complicity and commit to dismantling their systemic evil. Until the University of Sheffield stands in active solidarity with Palestine, until Palestine itself is liberated from the violence of neo-colonialism, we will fight.

As we’ve previously reported, the University of Sheffield has made at least £72 million from the arms trade since 2012. The Technology Delivery Director at arms company BAE Systems said that “research conducted at the University of Sheffield was instrumental in deciding the equipment, tooling and cutting parameters that we used to scale up production rates for the F-35,” and in turn that this research “has directly enabled BAE to deliver components for over 500 aircraft in the last 5 years.” The university and its facilities have been key to the research and development of weapons.

An alumni member of SCCP, Caroline, told me:

On January 18th, the world witnessed the destruction of the last university in Gaza. It was a brutal act of genocide, recorded in vivid detail, playing on my phone screen. I remember watching Al-Israa University crumble while walking between the buildings of my own university campus and feeling an incredible chasm between the devastation on my screen and the students milling around me, completely unchanged.

Since then, students everywhere have felt a pressing need to act against the ongoing violence perpetrated against Palestinians. Students and alumni cannot in good conscience continue to study in and interact with institutions that have inextricably linked themselves to war criminals for profit. Resisting this system may come at a personal cost, but turning universities into weapons caches for arming genocidal states is intolerable. We will revolt against it, no matter what.

At its core, this encampment is precisely about what Caroline spells out: how can students in Sheffield, or students anywhere for that matter, possibly bear to carry on their studies as though students are not being destroyed in Israel’s genocide? As though Palestinian universities and schools are not facing an apocalyptic end?

Support forthcoming

Whilst students in Sheffield are trying to hold their university to account several folks have stepped forward to show their support. Dr Lisa Stampnitzky, staff representative on SCCP and Politics Lecturer, said:

I am proud to see our students taking a stand and joining this worldwide movement against the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Our university needs to confirm its commitment to be an ethical institution and divest itself of ties to the development of weapons used to perpetrate atrocities.

A spokesperson for Sheffield Jews Against Israeli Apartheid (SJAIA) said:

Sheffield Jews Against Israeli Apartheid welcomes the May Day walk out by Sheffield University students in solidarity with Palestinian people. We support their actions and call on all students and staff to do so and resolve to hold their University to account for its complicity with the genocide perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.

An anonymous University of Sheffield staff member told me:

We cannot unsee the countless videos and written testimonies that have appeared on our screens in the last seven months, showing the violence, horror, and anguish thousands of Palestinians are being subjected to.

There is a compulsion to act and do what we can to bring an end to this injustice. I think there is also a growing realisation that our government and major institutions are not going to do anything about it. There will be no response like we saw with Ukraine. So it is down to us to show we refuse to stay silent and move on until all Palestinians are free.

Another university staff member at SCCP spoke to me about the need to express devastation and rage over human loss:

Since the current phase of Israeli violence in Palestine began, over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, over 70k injured, and so so so many more displaced. During this time, Israel has militarily targeted 4 countries apart from Palestine without any repercussions. In light of all of this, the human thing to do is to protest, rage and hold our institutions accountable. This is to be expected and it pleases me to see that we've not completely been desensitised. Our students do not only care about degrees and jobs, staff do not only care about our paychecks. We are following the lead of our students and will protect them and stand with them in this struggle for justice.


In response to encampments around the world, the Palestinian Educational Collective said:

We, a group of Palestinian youth, students, and university workers, stand shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity and pride, with our comrades who are protesting on university campuses across the United States, Europe, Egypt, Australia, and other parts of the world. We hear you, we appreciate your struggle, and together we will triumph against oppression.

I’ve worked at the University of Sheffield as a student, a PhD researcher, and a lecturer. I feel confident in stating that the university is fundamentally an institution that upholds colonial values, rife with racism, ableism, and more. I saw the university publicly proclaim values of decolonialism and internationalism, all whilst students and staff alike experienced abject racism, all whilst the institution itself churned out colonial forms and practices of knowledge.

I have been heartened to come across valued colleagues and comrades over the years who have made my time at the university more bearable. I am proud of the students who are potentially risking their education to make a stand for their fellow students in Palestine whose universities have been razed to the ground. I am proud of these students for seeing the university for what it is and resisting colonial pressures.

Queers in Palestine have aptly summed up the dire situation, stating: “If there is no functioning university in Gaza, there should be no functioning university in any empire or metropole.” Academics, scholars, students, universities, schools have been destroyed in Israel’s genocide – and they have been destroyed with impunity.

For students here in Sheffield to see Palestinians terrorised by settler colonialism and to object while living in the imperial core of Britain is a vitally necessary act, and it is an act of love.

Students, there are many of us who stand with you.

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