Leeds Palestine encampment removed after threat of legal action

Anti-Israel campus activists say they will return in September and ‘escalate’ their protests


Pro-Palestine encampments were launched at universities across Britain in May (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

When anti-Israel students at the University of Leeds established a protest camp on campus, they declared they would remain in place until the institution was, “no longer complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people”.

But, 47 days later, they have packed up and left after the university launched legal proceedings to obtain a possession order against them.

Birmingham University’s vice-chancellor has meanwhile condemned the “unacceptable behaviour” of demonstrators while seeking a court order for their removal.

Writing on Instagram, Leeds Students Against Apartheid Coalition said they had accomplished their goals after securing more meetings with university bosses and, “a rejuvenation of student politics on campus” with over 30 student societies and 85 per cent of the student body expressing support for Gaza.

"We have successfully demonstrated the solidarity of the students with Palestine,” they said.

"Though we have achieved much during our encampment, the University remains complicit in settler colonialism and the devastating violence it wrought,” the statement continued.

"The UEG [University Executive Group] continues to hide behind the excuse of political neutrality to resist any effort to end its complicity, while committing fully to partnering with institutions and individuals responsible for the mass slaughtering of Palestinians.”

In future, they said, the student pro-Palestine movement must push for "more radical and militant actions not only from ourselves but society at large."

Student protestors will return in September – after their summer break from university ends – to continue "escalations," the statement added.

“The past eight months have been an eye opener for many, and the Palestine movement is not going anywhere, not from this campus and not from society, not until we see a Palestine that is free from Western imperialism and settler colonialism,” they said.

Leeds’ anti-Israel encampment was launched in early May in the wake of a series of similar protests at American universities.

Speaking to student media outlet The Tab, activists said they would camp outside of Leeds University’s student union in solidarity with Palestine “indefinitely”.

There would be “no peace on campus” until this was achieved, they claimed.

Speaking anonymously following the camp’s creation, one Jewish student at Leeds told the JC there were “continuous calls” for an intifada at the university.

“More recently the words ‘Israel harvests Palestinian organs’ were written in chalk across the ground on campus, an obvious lie and libel against the world's only Jewish state,” they added.

Earlier this month, Leeds’ summer ball was cancelled because the encampment took up some of the space needed for the annual student celebration.

Ticket costs were refunded for around 4,000 students, and a slimmed-down summer party organised elsewhere.

Pro-Palestine camps were also established at the universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Warwick, among other sites, in response to the IDF’s campaign in Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians.

In Bristol, activists were filmed this week disrupting lectures given to prospective students during the university’s open day.

In one, one campaigner holding a Palestinian flag can be seen standing at the front of a lecture hall while another tells the audience: "The University of Bristol is propped up by the military industrial complex.

"This university has always been a tool of imperialism... founded on slave money, the university always took the interests of the British empire and now serves neo-colonialism."

Last week, the University of Birmingham requested a court order to remove an encampment on their Edgbaston campus.

Vice-chancellor Adam Tickell said the decision was taken with "a heavy heart" to end disruption after buildings had been damaged and staff intimidated.

Writing to staff, he said the protestors had chosen to escalate actions and "crossed the line into unacceptable behaviour.”

In a statement, Birmingham said: “We welcome the decision to grant an immediate order for possession of the University’s land in Chancellors Court. We also welcome the decision to grant an immediate order against non-students occupying any land across the Edgbaston Campus.

"The judge’s final decision on the Green Heart area of campus in relation to University of Birmingham students has been adjourned until later this month. The judge was also clear that vandalism, violence, intimidation, or entering buildings shouting and screaming by the student protestors may have substantial effect on any future defence.

"Taking legal action is not a decision taken lightly but is necessary to look after the interests of the whole University community. It is important that everyone on campus should be able to go about their business without fear of intimidation and without feeling that there are parts of campus where they cannot go. We recognise that some students and staff may wish to take part in protests about issues that matter to them and respect their right to do so peacefully within the law and University regulations. However, this does not include setting up a camp and occupying University land, to the detriment of the rest of the University community."

On Friday, a judge adjourned the case until later this month.

A spokesperson for the camp told the BBC they denied they had been responsible for graffiti.

In a statement, they said they would not be intimidated by the university.

Leeds Students Against Apartheid Coalition, Birmingham University and Bristol University have been contacted for comment. The University of Leeds did not wish to comment further.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive