Sussex students set up an encampment next to Library Square on 13 May in protest of the University’s unwillingness to take a stance on the conflict in Palestine, or divest their investments into companies that are complicit in Israel’s “colonial genocide”. The encampment has seven demands for the University: 

  1. Fully disclose all investments. 
  2. Divest from complicity in genocide.
  3. Invest in Palestinian students, academics and institutions. 
  4. Protect the freedom of expression and end repression of Palestinian voices. 
  5. Denounce Israel’s colonial genocide of Palestinians. 
  6. Uphold the academic boycott and cut ties with Israeli higher education institutions. 
  7. Fly the flag of Palestine over Sussex House.

The Badger spoke to President of the Friends of Palestine society, Mo Nasser, who was involved in setting up the camp, which already comprises over 15 tents. “We have set up this Liberation encampment because the University of Sussex has said publicly that they will not condemn the violence and have no intention of divesting from companies complicit in genocide.” He expressed that the camp is a step in escalating the weekly protests held by Friends of Palestine since October, and that it was a collective agreement within the society and its supporters. He went on to say “we are expecting the encampment to last for a few months, but we are hoping that the University responds sooner.” The desired University response to end the encampment is in accordance with the seven demands above. 

In light of the encampment, a University of Sussex spokesperson told The Badger: “The University has a foundational commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and is committed to an inclusive, respectful, and supportive learning environment. In light of this we respect students’ right to engage in peaceful and non-disruptive protest. We ask those students who are protesting not to cause disruption or disturbance to other students at this vital time in the academic year nor to interrupt the wider work of the University.”

They also specified that “the University will not tolerate any expressions of antisemitism or any form of racism.” 

The Students’ Union released a statement on 15 May supporting the encampment. “The leadership of this Students’ Union do not believe this is a time for sitting on the fence. Some may expect neutrality, but we believe that neutrality is a political choice and a position that is contrary to the values of this University and this student body.”

Many universities across the UK have been seeing this style of encampment protest in the last few weeks, including Manchester, Leeds, Oxford, Newcastle and more. When asked why the camp at Sussex had started relatively later than those at other institutions, Nasser said “at the beginning, we didn’t think we had the numbers, but after we started planning we received enough support to go ahead. We also wanted to make sure everything is secure and everyone involved is safe before we started.” He also encouraged those who are interested in joining the demonstration, expressing that “everyone is welcome to join. We have some spare tents, but it will be better if people can bring their own.” 

The camp hosted an induction and legal talk at 6 p.m. on 13 May for those interested in joining, followed by a community dinner and a banner making event free for all to attend. 

On 14 May, a workshop on political organising was held at the camp by representatives of the Palestine Youth Movement, as well as henna and dabke classes. The mood at the camp was upbeat despite the rain overnight, with many students joining for the day despite their upcoming deadlines.

In an email to all students from Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Kate O’Riordan on 16 May, the University addressed the encampment. Significantly, she “reassure[d] those participating that the University supports peaceful protest within the law,” while also reiterating that the University is “equally committed to [the] wellbeing and continued support” for all students. Professor O’Riordan also described spending some time at the camp, saying she “saw evidence of a commitment to respectful engagement, a non-conflict approach, and supporting students’ studies.”

Staff, former staff, and alumni published an open letter in support of the encampment on 14 May. The letter echoes the encampment demands, and opposes “any attempt to police or silence the encampment without negotiation or to intimidate students as they exercise their right to protest.” It urges the University to maintain a “consistent approach to human rights, international humanitarian law and denounce the genocide in Gaza.” The staff affirmed their support for the students protesting, stating that they are proud of them, and that they have “shown what real courage entails in their unwillingness to remain silent.”

Other statements in support of the protest were released by the Sussex University and College Union (UCU) Executive Committee and UNISON union on 14 May. The Sussex UCU took a stance of solidarity in alignment with the national UCU statement, and urged people to sign the aforementioned open letter. They once again urged the University to “promptly act on staff and students’ demands.” The UNISON statement emphasised their support of “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means of applying pressure to secure a ceasefire, end the genocide, and bring Israel in line with its obligations under international law.”

For those wishing to aid in the protest, there is a Sussex Encampment donations document, where anyone can list the supplies they are able to take to the campsite. This is accessible through the link: Donations / Support. All students wishing to participate in events or camp overnight will be welcomed at Library Square.

The University of Sussex currently invests £20,920,231 into companies that support settler colonialism, apartheid, and military occupation in Palestine, evidenced by information from within the 2024 Freedom of Information requests. Within this sum, over £14 million is invested into Barclays Bank which, according to a report published May 2024 by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, invests over £100 million General Dynamics. General Dynamics is a global aerospace and defence company that provides gun systems used within Israeli fighter jets. Other investments include over £6 million to HSBC, a bank that ‘Which On Want’ found provides up to £19 million in supplying Israel with arms and military technology. Investments of a similar nature include Puma, Siemens, and £484,505 into Amazon. 

Image taken by Ada Carpenter, Senior Editor

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Liberation Encampment Fights for Sussex to Fly The Flag of Palestine

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