February 25th, 2009


Citizen student

The photo below (Anja Niedringhaus, AP) shows a classroom in Jebaliya, Gaza. The name cards represent pupils of the Fakhoura School killed by Israeli army shells last month.

But Israel's actions in Gaza have affected classrooms elsewhere. "We are a group of students concerned about the university's continuing support for Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank," University of Plymouth students say on their occupation blog, "indicated by the university's investments with BAE Systems who have sold 236 F-16 fighter planes to the Israeli state, and its silence over the recent atrocities and human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip."

"As a result we have occupied room 202 in the Smeaton Building in solidarity with the people of Palestine and to directly protest against the university's complicity in Israeli war crimes.... The occupying students would be keen for lectures to continue in this room without interruption. We are willing for a small group to remain unobtrusively at the back of the room, as a symbolic presence."

Cue obligatory flip references to Citizen Smith, the counter-revolutionary UK sitcom from 1977 in which "a young Marxist urban revolutionary living in Tooting, South London, is attempting to emulate his hero Che Guevara. Wolfie is the self-proclaimed leader of the Tooting Popular Front (in reality a small bunch of his friends) the goals of which are "Power to the People" and "Freedom for Tooting". In reality, he is an unemployed dreamer and petty criminal whose plans fall through due to laziness and disorganisation."

But in this case it isn't just a "small bunch of friends". The UK, over the past month, has seen an extraordinary (and under-reported, though The Guardian did post an article) series of student occupations. There are or have been occupations at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Goldsmiths, Sheffield, the University of East Anglia, Cambridge, Bradford, the London School of Economics, Queen Mary, King's College, SOAS, Byam Shaw and Leeds, each with its own occupation blog (click the links for heartening photos of "revolting students" strumming guitars, preparing vegan food, picketing, pamphleteering and generally acting as if it were 1968 all over again).

Many students have been demanding -- and getting -- scholarships at their universities for Palestinian students; another way classrooms in Gaza and classrooms in the UK are now being linked, and a vindication of the occupations in itself. In some colleges the protests have widened into issues about budget cuts and a streamlined "Education PLC" attitude.

The Gaza shelling may now be over but, as Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports today, many (including Hillary Clinton) are extremely frustrated by the attitude of the Israeli authorities to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza:

"When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that "Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid - only rice shipments." Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official's intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip. The U.S. senator updated colleagues at the Senate and other senior officials in Washington of the details of his visit.

"The issue of humanitarian aid is central to a major debate between Israel's foreign and defense ministries. The former supports broadening the amount and types of aid, while the defense ministry opposes anything it considers "concessions" to Hamas. A senior source dealing with humanitarian aid issues on the Israeli side said that Gilad has prepared a list of "humanitarian aid items" and refuses to broaden it. "Authority is in the hands of one person, and he is not willing to help," the source said. "This is outrageous. Why should a senior American official issue a protest on pasta in order for us to recognize that we need to allow it into the Gaza Strip?"