One of the biggest stories not being covered by the mainstream media is the growing number of student peace camps growing up around the country with just one demand: that their universities divest from Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused this week of war crimes by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor.

I visited the Cardiff University Encampment, a large village of tents currently occupying the grounds of the main administrative block of the university. The camp seems well supplied and is flying multiple Palestinian flags proudly. At both entrances to the encampment, there are larger signs reading ‘Divest’ and ‘Disclose’ respectively.

Many of the students at the camp were reluctant to speak or to have their names printed. They also were not keen on being photographed, fearing later repercussions from the University. I spoke to Dan, their Media Coordinator, who told me: “We are not asking much of the university. Divestment from Israel and disclosure of the use of fees and donations.”

A hive of multi-cultural identity sits at the heart of this camp, along with food and other provisions generously donated by members of the public. Those gathered here are eager to continue their learning. I was shown not just a well-supplied kitchen but a circle where lessons take place (on this day it was a history of Palestine) as well as a library stocked with materials on colonialism and Palestinian poetry. 

My envy might be short-lived as Dan told me that they were facing “hot days and freezing cold nights” and storms were forecast on the day of my visit. We should remember that these student activists are doing this not for their own benefit but to keep attention focused on the genocide being perpetrated against the Palestinian people. While the encampment is well stocked and active, it’s a far cry from the comforts of home. While a full-on clash with officers in riot gear might not be in the immediate future, the lack of response on the university’s part gives no comfort to these protestors.

The students’ demands include the formation of a democratic body of staff and students to determine where funding goes. Dan explains, “We know that Cardiff is involved with weapons manufacturer BAE Systems”. The camp has become a focal point for the weekly demonstrations in Cardiff city centre in solidarity with Palestine.

The group at the Cardiff encampment may be small, a core of around fifteen to twenty individuals. Yet their goals are far more ambitious than their small size suggests. This is not some half-baked attempt to show solidarity; it is a demonstration prepared to hold strong until real change is demonstrated. “Those here,” Dan tells me, “would like to see the money go to rebuilding universities in Gaza.”

My brief time amongst these protestors quickly established that this was more than tents and signs. This is an active community, a week old in its establishment, yet already demonstrating a foundation to be built upon within the institution, which has, to date, shown no care in responding to their demands. The university has kept itself silent except for a statement by the Vice Chancellor, which states they are “monitoring the situation” and that staff and students can seek support from Care First as well as “pastoral and spiritual” representatives. How long they remain so will be interesting, since the camp occupies a place where the annual graduation parties take place.

The University and College Union (UCU) branch in Cardiff issued a statement of support and “stand in solidarity” with the students.  The UCU has nationally taken the position of supporting the encampments, demonstrating that solidarity truly is at the heart of this movement. The Student Union, whilst not actively promoting the camp has been in close contact with Dan and the other protestors and has offered to mediate any negotiations. This rather sums up the state of student union politics where avoiding politics seems to be the raison d’être.

The Cardiff encampment is eager for change and is willing to build it on a culture of solidarity. “At its core, solidarity is what we’re trying to do,” Dan tells me.

I enjoyed my visit to the camp and found the students there friendly, committed, peaceful and inspirational. I would like to  acknowledge the great work done by those at all the encampments and thank Dan and all those at the Cardiff University encampment for their solidarity and open discourse.


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