Like so many people across the world and at this university I was appalled by the actions recently taken by the Israeli government in Gaza. I believed that it was my duty to defend the people of Gaza against what was an illegal and disgraceful bombardment. As a result I attended marches in my home town and decided to join the meeting held on Tuesday evening at the university.

The number of students who attended the talk and subsequent discussion amazed me and I was relieved that so many students agreed with me that what was happening in Gaza was unjust and that something had to be done. I was also relieved that Dr. Tamimi, an author on the subject of the conflict and outspoken supporter of Hamas, was allowed to speak.

Although I do not support the Hamas regime in Gaza I thought that his contribution was valuable and helpful in understanding the situation. What I was not so relieved to discover, however, was the support that the students gave him regarding the actions of Hamas which include the targeting of innocent Israeli civilians.

Whilst it is certainly true that the number of innocent civilians killed by Hamas rockets is far less than the number of innocent civilians killed by Israeli bombs, less than 10 to approximately 1300 since the conflict
began on the 27th December, no action aimed at civilians can ever be justified in the fight for freedom. Even the speaker from the Stop the War coalition seemed to advocate the use of indiscriminate violence against Israelis. This surprised me as I consider them to be a pacifist organisation.

When this point was made by a member of the meeting, she was met by an aggressive and intimidating rebuttal from a number of people including Dr. Tamimi himself. This was also the case for a number of others who made valuable contributions throughout the meeting, not just on the use of violence but also on the format of the meeting and the bias of the speakers who were invited to talk.

It seemed that any person who held a position, other than that demonstrated by the speakers, and who condemned the use of violence was not allowed to have that opinion in that room. The meeting reached a point where one member stood and argued that any individual who did not support Hamas would not be welcome to demonstrate with the activists in any subsequent action. This instantly alienated me and made me feel that to support a group of oppressed people I had to instantly support their government.

I was also upset at some of the language used during the meeting. By this I mean the constant comparisons drawn between the plight of the Palestinians and the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. Considering the circumstances I found this grossly inappropriate. Some of the language used also bordered on anti-Semitism with one speaker talking of a conspiracy involving Zionists around the world. This to me didn’t seem to far away from the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, a Nazi propaganda tool used to convince people that there was a Jewish conspiracy controlling the globe. Again, when one speaker brought this up he was swiftly told that he did not fully understand the situation.

Whether this was true or not his point was a good one. He argued that in order to succeed in any action the support of a much wider group was required and that with the use of language such as ‘Holocaust’ people would be alienated by what they saw as extremism. His point was well supported by the number of empty seats at the end of the meeting as opposed to the start.

My support is solely with the Palestinian people which, for me, involves their right to defend themselves against attack. What I do not support is the indiscriminate violence shown by both sides against civilians.
I will continue to support the on campus protests because I believe they continue to stand for a free Palestine, something that I believe strongly in. I cannot, though, ever condone violence against innocent people and the sooner that the protesters realise this the sooner they will widen their appeal to students of differing opinions.

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  • In response to your points:

    “I was also relieved that Dr. Tamimi, an author on the subject of the conflict and outspoken supporter of Hamas, was allowed to speak.”

    The university attempted to prevent this public meeting from happening after it had been debated and ratified by the USSU council. When students arrived at Arts A2 lecture theatre they found the doors locked and had to force their entrance through the fire exit. 300 people turned up to attend this lecture.

    “Although I do not support the Hamas regime in Gaza I thought that his contribution was valuable and helpful in understanding the situation. What I was not so relieved to discover, however, was the support that the students gave him regarding the actions of Hamas which include the targeting of innocent Israeli civilians.”

    This meeting was intended as a public forum in which to debate the political aspects of this conflict. Students represented a variety of different political and religious perspectives and were invited to air these openly. The discussion concerning the actions of Hamas was lengthy and involved and to imply that students or Tamimi were simply and unequivocally supportive of these sorts of actions is not a fair representation of the complexity of the debate.

    “Whilst it is certainly true that the number of innocent civilians killed by Hamas rockets is far less than the number of innocent civilians killed by Israeli bombs, less than 10 to approximately 1300 since the conflict
    began on the 27th December, no action aimed at civilians can ever be justified in the fight for freedom.”

    This aspect of the debate focused on the attempt to EXPLAIN and to CONTEXTUALISE methods such as suicide bombing or rocket attacks reminding us of movements such as the Black Panther Party and nationalist movements in India, Algeria, South Africa, and Israel.

    “Even the speaker from the Stop the War coalition seemed to advocate the use of indiscriminate violence against Israelis. This surprised me as I consider them to be a pacifist organisation.”

    Again, the focus of the debate was not to take a stance for or against acts of violence, but to attempt to understand the conditions in which they have arisen. In historical situations where people have no political power or other means of making their voices heard, violence becomes a tool by which to resist oppression. Nobody was straightforwardly advocating the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians. We can’t expect to understand fully what drives people to violent actions of this sort. The concept of ‘pacifism’ is again far more complex than the manner in which it is invoked here to characterise the stance of national organisations who organise demonstrations reaching up to 2 million activists and cannot be straightforwardly applied by those living under conditions of peace to a situation such as that of occupied Palestine.

    “When this point was made by a member of the meeting, she was met by an aggressive and intimidating rebuttal from a number of people including Dr. Tamimi himself. This was also the case for a number of others who made valuable contributions throughout the meeting, not just on the use of violence but also on the format of the meeting and the bias of the speakers who were invited to talk.”

    The bias of the speakers was intentional and reflected the opposition to the monstrously disproportionate Israeli attacks on Gaza. The question of the bias of the panel was raised in discussion and responded to by Tamimi who drew attention to the standard refusal of Israeli speakers to share a panel with him and again extended his invitation to anyone to do so. Obviously due to the horrific nature of the recent events in Gaza passions were running high, however the debate was well-chaired and controlled even when confrontation and controversy arose.

    “It seemed that any person who held a position, other than that demonstrated by the speakers, and who condemned the use of violence was not allowed to have that opinion in that room.”

    Questions were directed to the panel and responded to.

    “The meeting reached a point where one member stood and argued that any individual who did not support Hamas would not be welcome to demonstrate with the activists in any subsequent action. This instantly alienated me and made me feel that to support a group of oppressed people I had to instantly support their government.”

    During the discussion concerning actions that we could take, the opinion was voiced by one Palestinian that he would not feel supported in organising an action in solidarity with the Palestinian people with those who were unwilling to RECOGNISE that Hamas are the democratically elected choice of government of Palestine. It is not the case that he called for everyone to support Hamas. This was discussed at length by the 200 remaining people present and it was resolved that anybody choosing to participate in solidarity actions ought to be able to hold their own perspectives on this issue and that no explicit stance would be taken by the group.

    “I was also upset at some of the language used during the meeting. By this I mean the constant comparisons drawn between the plight of the Palestinians and the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. Considering the circumstances I found this grossly inappropriate.”

    The connection of these two atrocities are historical. We cannot ignore that what happened in 1945 and the Holocaust initiated the immigration of Jewish communities into the land of Palestine, leading to today’s illegal occupation of that land. Again we stress that those present within the discussion as well as those present on the panel and those societies involved in the organisation of the discussion reflected a multiplicity of different political backgrounds and were invited to share these freely. The connections of current events to the genocide perpetrated in the Holocaust has been a topic of focus in much of the public and media debate and was inevitable that such discussion would be raised.

    “Some of the language used also bordered on anti-Semitism with one speaker talking of a conspiracy involving Zionists around the world. This to me didn’t seem to far away from the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, a Nazi propaganda tool used to convince people that there was a Jewish conspiracy controlling the globe. Again, when one speaker brought this up he was swiftly told that he did not fully understand the situation.”

    The idea of ‘conspiracy’ was raised by a member of the floor, not a speaker from the panel, and was not taken seriously by the rest of the room due to the nature of his comments. When he tried to raise these points for a second time he was stopped by the chair of the debate having violated the rules of respect that governed the discussion. Anti-semitism was not relevant to this meeting and is not relevant to any of the subsequent actions that have been taken.

    “Whether this was true or not his point was a good one. He argued that in order to succeed in any action the support of a much wider group was required and that with the use of language such as ‘Holocaust’ people would be alienated by what they saw as extremism. His point was well supported by the number of empty seats at the end of the meeting as opposed to the start.”

    It is important to emphasis that the discussion concerning these connections took place within the general debate between the 300 members of the floor and the panel. This question did not form a part of the subsequent discussion concerning the organisation of solidarity action. Before this organisation discussion took place, those who were not interested in being a part of it were invited to leave if they wished (hence the empty seats). Nonetheless around 200 people stayed in the room showing the high amount of support for the action of occupation.

    “My support is solely with the Palestinian people which, for me, involves their right to defend themselves against attack. What I do not support is the indiscriminate violence shown by both sides against civilians.”

    An important question to be asked in response to this assertion is how exactly we expect the Palestinians to defend themselves when all their borders are closed and the Israeli war machine, with the financial backing of the United States and the United Kingdom, attack a population with no state, a non-recognised government, and no official armed forces. This statement misjudges the situation in assuming that both sides have the sovereign right to defend themselves when in fact defence on your terms is impossible for the Palestinian people.

    “I will continue to support the on campus protests because I believe they continue to stand for a free Palestine, something that I believe strongly in. I cannot, though, ever condone violence against innocent people and the sooner that the protesters realise this the sooner they will widen their appeal to students of differing opinions.”

    Those involved in current campus organised actions embody a variety of different political and religious perspectives. It is not the stance of any organised solidarity actions that violence against innocent people is something to be condoned and we resent the implication.

  • The palenstine protest – a bitter sweet victory

    Someone announced today in my lecture in arts A002 that the university has conceeded to a number of demands made by the protesters in arts A002 including paid scholarships, gift aid to palenstine education and boards set up to review the investments made by the university. While this pleases me as a supporter of gaza in this conflict, it raises a worrying question. How can such a small , allbeit vocal, minority enforce their views on the entire student population?

    Firstly the elitest nature of the last weeks protest. I attended the latter part of the meeting, as the demands were being finalised, and also noticed how some opinions of people that did not seem totally in accordance with the will of the people running the meeting were subsequently squashed while others allowed to flourish. This i feel reflects the overall feeling on campus this last week of how a fashionable nature has emerged to support gaza. It has left those of the jewish and isreali communities marginialised to the extent that the jewish society has declined an offer by the debating society to attend the isreali – gaza debate on wednesday.

    The question of fashion and the contemporary nature of this issue also raises doubts in my mind of the genuine intentions of these protesters? With further investigation i think it may be found that many of the participants have a rather shallow committment to stopping atrocities of war. For example, while many seem keen to boycott isreali goods, i very much doubt that many , if any , of the people in A002 boycot American and British goods due to the on going wars in Afganisthan and Iraq or boycot goods from China due to their poor human rights record. No it seems to me there is a lot of egotistical band wagon jumping from the far left of the student population.

    This protest also seems to have been directed not at the university but at the student population , interrupting lectures and generally forcing us to learn in their squalour and if you have been into arts A002 recently im sure you can understand what i mean. Surely a far more effective and courageous ploy would have been to occupy the vice chancellor’s office or offices of other high players in the university adiministration? Which also brings up the weak nature of the protest reflected by one of their demands to be for no reperccusions on all participants. Surely if they believe so strongly in their cause they should be more than willing to take the risks?

    Now we all have to agree with university policy , directed by the palestine society. There has been no real widespread consultation of student opinion and while it may be the case that many support the demands that have been accepted by the university no one has given us a chance to say so. How can the demands, whether you agree with them or not, of this group i have highlighted be legitimately accepted by the university without everyone having their say? Do we all need to go and occupy lecture theatres before someone listens to us?

    While those students at the university who support gaza , including myself, should rejoice at what has been achieved, all students should be angry that they have had opinions enforced upon them and that the democratic nature has been swept aside by a small minority even though this may not of been their intention. I call for a referendum tp be held so all students can express their own opinion , even if that opinion may be apathetic, so we can finally as a university take a solid stance on Isreali – Gaza conflict.

  • The Palestine’s Society activities have been a process of a long term project, passing many motions through AGM’s and having them as union policy (boycott, and twinning project. This represents the opinion of a large group of students, at least 5% of the student body, and the signatures collected during this campaign were way over that number (required in order to pass union policy at AGM.) Please don’t make assumptionsof the ”fashion and the contemporary nature of this issue” and ”shallow committment to stopping atrocities of war”. This occupation was bult by the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Society that have been campaigning for Palestine for decades now. If anything the statements are not a reflection of how radically committed most of us students are. Many of us had had to compromise to the demands of the occupation in order to represent the full student body and also to gain consensus within the student occupiers.
    We ask how has this occupation marginalised students from Israeli and Jewish communities, when many of our speaker came from these communities such as Alana Lentin, Marc Cushman and many of the members of the occupation were jewish. It is not a question of marginalising or alienation, it is a question with agreeing or not with a war machine such as Israel. Moreover inviting to a debate the Palestine Society (a national struggle) vs. the Jewish Society (religious identity) is marginalising and alienating to their Jewish members who do not identify to the conflict or Israel, and are only part of that society simply for religious and cultural reasons.
    This occupation was publiscised and was welcome to the whole of the student body. 300 people attended the public meeting, this occupation was first aimed at the University’s breach of their ethical investment policy (which represents a deciion made by the student body), and for their stance to Human Rights. This occupation wanted to make sure that University policy and stances were legitimised and taken seriously. Moreovr this occupation raised awareness about the horrific plight of the Palestinian and got people like you talking (Matt Raymond).

    Please stay aware of the following events that will be held on this campus to promote this new campaign and ensure raising awareness to the whole of the Student’s body on these demands. And we take full responsibility for these demands.

    Bushra and Rachel

  • ok il take this point by point

    “passing many motions through AGM’s and having them as union policy (boycott, and twinning project. This represents the opinion of a large group of students, at least 5% of the student body, and the signatures collected during this campaign were way over that number (required in order to pass union policy at AGM”

    ok i know the way the union runs is a much larger debate but 5% does not count as a majority as im sure you are more than aware and just because the union runs this way for one reason or another doesn’t mean we should take this 5% as absoloute. I’m also sure your aware on large issues the union will hold a referendum, and in my opinion this issue is large enough. My point really is that these demands should of been put to referendum before protest. And if these demands were passed by referendum which im fairly confident most of them would have and the university had then denied them i would of been more than happy to protest. It’s like the miners strike if a national vote had been called the last mine would of closed making the miners position a lot stronger with solidarity. Solidarity is what this protest lacked and however way you spin it the views of students have been excluded.

    “We ask how has this occupation marginalised students from Israeli and Jewish communities, when many of our speaker came from these communities such as Alana Lentin, Marc Cushman and many of the members of the occupation were jewish. It is not a question of marginalising or alienation, it is a question with agreeing or not with a war machine such as Israel. Moreover inviting to a debate the Palestine Society (a national struggle) vs. the Jewish Society (religious identity) is marginalising and alienating to their Jewish members who do not identify to the conflict or Israel, and are only part of that society simply for religious and cultural reasons.”

    well i must say im glad if anything but as niether of us have done extensive research on the entire jewish or isreali population on campus niether of us really have a leg to stand on. And to clarify the debate was never palestine vs jewish soc. But the view that all members of the jewish soc and solely in it for religious and culture is also narrow and generalised. So we are both guilty of that.

    Moreovr this occupation raised awareness about the horrific plight of the Palestinian and got people like you talking (Matt Raymond)

    ok please dont act as if the student population is ignorant i think most people were aware of what is going on in palestine and the awareness is not just down to you. Finally please don’t acredit yourself for my actions it is rather self glorifying as this whole protest has been.

  • Thanks Jamie, good article. I didn’t attend the meeting pretty much for the reasons mentioned here, and I’m really glad that I didn’t.

    In response to ‘Anonymous’ who said “Nobody was straightforwardly advocating the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians. We can’t expect to understand fully what drives people to violent actions of this sort” – If anyone can understand, it was Dr Tamimi, because he has said that he WOULD commit a suicide bombing if he could… and he said it on national television and I have seen him say it, so really it’s not like it’s a secret that he’s advocated indiscriminate violence against innocent people. Serious hypocrisy…

  • This is a response to the second comment on the page by Matt Raymond: “The Palestine Protest: A Bittersweet Victory”.

    First of all, I’d like to make the point that the current ongoing occupation is a rather separate matter to the topic of this article: the speaker session with Dr. Azzam Tamimi last Tuesday (20th). But seeing as you have already conflated the two, I shall pick up on a few of your criticisms of the occupation:

    1) “How can such a small , allbeit vocal, minority enforce their views on the entire student population?”

    The decision to occupy Arts A2 lecture theatre was taken following the above-mentioned meeting. Of the 300 people present, 200 people stayed after this meeting’s end to discuss the proposed occupation. Of these, 86 people gave up their evening at no notice to stay and physically occupy the room. At present, the petition has gathered well over 1000 signatures of Sussex students and some faculty. That is twice the required quoracy for decisions to be deemed reflective of student opinion at the USSU AGM, and represents around 10% of the student population. The facebook group currently has over 900 members. The occupation has been tireless in its efforts to engage the wider student community, with intensive publicity campaigns, public events and speaker sessions, open meetings every night, an infostall outside Arts A2 and many students giving up their days to flyer and speak to students in library square and around campus.

    2) “The elitist nature of last week’s protest/opinions of people that were not in accordance with the will of those running the meeting squashed.”

    As a consistent attendee of the nightly general meetings, I simply do not think that these accusations are accurate. The serious commitment of the students of the occupation to allowing all participants and attendees a voice are reflected in the lengthy discussions that were had concerning internal dynamics and the safer spaces policy that arose out of that, which I urge you to read (it’s on the blog and the wall of A2). No one group or faction runs the meetings, and therefore no one group is exerting their will over others. Facilitators are rotated regularly (with everyone allowed the opportunity to volunteer) and decisions are taken by consensus, which is a decision-making structure specifically designed to allow those quieter members or those whose perspectives are in a minority a fair chance of participation and equal voice. There is a dedicated support and welfare team who provide conflict resolution and representation should anybody feel that there voice has not been heard by the group. The co-operative atmosphere and general willingness of all involved to lay aside their political differences to work together on this uniting issue (the condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli state in Gaza and support for the Palestinians) has awed me: rarely before have I seen people come together spontaneously and unite to organise so successfully in this way simply to stand up for what is right. Your statement simply does not reflect reality.

    3). “Fashion”/”Shallow”/’Doubts of the genuineness of intentions’/”Bandwagon-jumping from the far-left.”

    How dare you discount and dismiss people’s real horror and compassion in this way. To say that those students who have spent the past week barely sleeping to put their all into trying to achieve practical support for those victims of conflict in Palestine who we have never met and never will is offensive in the extreme. If the occupation is successful then that will have a very real and immediate beneficial effect on very many people affected by the conflict. A quote on the wall of Arts A2 reads “The optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought.” In the spirit of that quote and calling on your self-identification as a “supporter of Gaza in this conflict” I ask you what have you done to help those affected? What real practical support have you given?

    4) “seems to have been directed not at the university but at the student population , interrupting lectures” etc.

    This occupation was explicitly directed at the university, not at its students. Hence the commitment to allowing lectures to continue as normal. I’m sure that if we had stopped the functioning of the university by occupying an administration office you would have been complaining even louder. We have not interrupted lectures, but requested 2 minutes to explain our cause and presence at the start of lectures by permission of the lecturer. Every morning, the occupiers have been waking at around 8am to help clean and tidy the lecture theatre prior to lectures. There is also a recycling system in place. Very often, students of the occupation are involved in cleaning up after those students who come in for daytime lectures.

    5) “Had opinions enforce upon them”/”democratic nature swept aside by small minority”/”without everyone having their say” etc.

    Please Matt, we do encourage you to come along to our general meetings and have your say, along with everyone else who has an interest in the matter. We have been actively encouraging people to do so all along. We have spent a long time putting procedures in place to ensure that everybody is listened to. I think that our current processes are more democratic than any other decision-making structures that operate on campus for those who are willing to come along and participate. We have by and large had enormous support from most people that we have spoken to around campus. Again, I draw attention to the fact that we currently have twice the amount of signatures on our petition than is required quoracy at the AGM, which was not even reached for most of the decisions taken at this year’s meeting, despite it having been publicised with the slogan “come and have your say”. I do not think that we need to force people who do not wish to be involved into taking a stance. For those who do have an opinion, please come and voice it.

    I hope that this clears up some things for you.