Palestinian and Israeli students were among those protesting in Brighton earlier this month in the biggest anti-war demonstration seen in the city since the invasion of Iraq.
Student union statement
“The University of Sussex Students’ Union has a long history of standing up against oppression throughout the world. We would like to voice our continuing support for the Palestinian people living under military occupation for the last sixty years.
“Israel’s bombing and ground invasion have resulted in the deaths of over a thousand Palestinians with injuries to thousands more, almost half of which are children under the age of 16. Last week, it was reported that over forty people, including many children, died when an Israeli air-strike hit a UN school.
“While Israeli forces persist in contravening international law and continue to exacerbate the humanitarian situation by bombing schools, mosques, hospitals and other civil infrastructures, USSU supports and encourages international efforts in pressuring the Israeli government to end its occupation of the Palestinian land.
“For the past decade, the Union has been actively campaigning with demands for Israel to comply with International law and to end this occupation. USSU encourages its members to join local and national demonstrations and rallies in support of the Palestinian people, and praises those who have already done so. At the same time the Students’ Union also recognizes and condemns the rise in Anti-Semitic attacks around the world, deplores those involved and calls for an end to violence on all sides.
“As a consequence to the current situation in Gaza, USSU unreservedly condemns the Israeli military action against the people of Gaza and expresses its support and solidarity with the Palestinian people in this time of suffering.”
Riya al’Sanah, a first year International Relations & Development student, was one of those marching. Riya had been visiting her family in Beersheba, just 30 miles from Gaza, when the bombing started. “I could stand on the roof of my house and see the flames at night,” she said. “I have relatives in Gaza and I was feeling scared for them, and feeling so helpless. It was just horrible.
“I feel relief that I’m here in England, in a way. I don’t hear the bombs any more, which started sounding like music by the end of the day, because they were so constant. But I feel even more helpless here. It’s unhuman, what’s happening.”
Simon Englert, a second year English Literature & Drama student and member of the Brighton and Sussex Jewish Society, was also on the march. He compared the situation in Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. He said, “It’s like, ‘let’s starve them for 6 months, and then bomb them for 3 weeks, and let’s make sure they all die.’ It’s absolutely appalling.”
The Israeli government has argued that the attacks are a legitimate response to rockets fired by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. But al’Sanah, who lived in Israel for 18 years before coming to Sussex, said, “There’s no comparison between the Qassam [rockets] and the one-tonne bombs that are dropped on Gaza.”
She described what happened when a Hamas rocket landed 100 metres from her family home in Beersheba. “We heard the 40 second warning,” she said. “The rocket fell, and we immediately went out to look for it to see what happened. They can barely knock a wall down – compared to the Israeli bombs it’s nothing.”
Up to 2000 people joined the Brighton march, which passed off peacefully. It was one of many demonstrations held around the world in recent weeks. In London up to 150,000 people marched on the Israeli embassy. Lindsey German, one of the march organisers, said they wanted the British government to put more pressure on Israel. She told the BBC, “There would have been outrage from governments around the world if this had happened anywhere else – the condemnation has been at best half-hearted.”