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Pro-Palestine uni camps embed across country

Protesters are removing their Pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Melbourne.

Protesters are removing their Pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Melbourne. Photo: AAP

Each night, students take turns to watch over a sprawling pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Sydney.

“We have a night watch system,” University of Sydney student representative council president Harrison Brennan told AAP.

“People wake up staggered because we’re making sure that the camp is safe in case of Zionist agitators.”

The camp is one of almost a dozen that have embedded themselves in universities across Australia to support the pro-Palestine movement, mirroring those set up on college campuses in the US.

Friction in communities has been building since.

Pro-Palestine activists at the University of Adelaide have twice had fireworks thrown into their camp at night.

The Adelaide students used a group chat connecting university camps across Australia warning them to stay vigilant, sharing footage of fireworks exploding by tents.

Campus security and CCTV have been deployed to keep an eye on the Sydney camp at night after organisers asked the university for help.

“We are concerned for the safety of the encampment,” Mr Brennan said.

Safety is also a worry for some Jewish students.

Australian Jewish Association public affairs director Robert Gregory says the pro-Palestine camps are making students feel unwelcome.

“Members of the Jewish community are feeling fearful, they’re feeling worried, but more than anything, they’re feeling alone,” Mr Gregory said.

“We’ve spoken to many students at different campuses that don’t feel safe on campus anymore.

“Students who have deferred their studies, students who are considering moving to Israel because of it – which is crazy to think about when there’s a war zone.”

Tensions have boiled over at encampments in the US where students in some cases have been obstructed from attending classes.

Chaos erupted at UCLA in April after police moved in to dismantle the pro-Palestine camp, arresting more than 200 protesters.

On Australian campuses, it may be the calm before the storm with Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Paterson warning university chancellors there’s a strong likelihood of violence if camps grow.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has expressed alarm about divisions over the conflict in Australian society, noting rises in both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

“Social cohesion is being frayed at the moment,” he said this week.

“I’m very concerned at what we’ve seen.”

For those involved in the Sydney camp, days are mainly spent fighting the elements, hosting events and planning their next move.

Most necessities are covered by donors, helping to keep expenses down for students that are still paying rent.

“No need to buy breakfast or lunch or dinner really,” Mr Brennan said.

“One person bought a barbecue and cooked us nice sausages and another person brought a tub of lentil soup, which is lovely.”

A large stockpile of food, camping equipment and essentials like toothbrushes is organised into piles near one of the main entries of the historic university quadrangle.

Just in front of the entry is a gazebo that gets covered with a screen for movie nights.

Educational and entertainment events are also held at the camp.

Around 40 campers come and go as some return to the comforts of home for a shower or to focus before an exam.

Organised by the student representative council and Students for Palestine group, the Sydney camp is demanding the University of Sydney cut ties with Israeli institutions and weapons manufacturers.

Their main issue is with French defence system manufacturer Thales, which in 2022 extended a research and development partnership with the University of Sydney.

A spokesperson said the university did not have any direct partnerships with any Israeli defence companies.

University heads have not met protest organisers to discuss their demands.

But pressure is building after the university’s branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) voted for the institutional academic boycott of Israel.

Mr Gregory said if protester demands were met, he would call for all Jewish donors to withdraw university contributions.

“Many of the major donors at the University of Sydney are Jewish, including the largest individual donor,” he said.

“If USyd was to give in the demands of these activists, they would encourage further action probably directed against them.

“Usually we find when you give in to blackmail, extortion and threats, threats don’t go away.”

—AAP

Topics: Protest
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