Melbourne Uni students occupy to cut ties with Israel

Students at Melbourne Uni have occupied the Arts West building three weeks after they began their encampment in solidarity with Gaza.

“The central demand is to get Melbourne Uni to divest and cut its ties with the weapons manufacturers that are complicit in Israel’s genocide—including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems and Rosebank Engineering,” one of the occupiers, Cooper Forsyth, told Solidarity.

The occupiers have renamed the building “Mahmoud Hall” after a Palestinian who hoped to study at the university but was killed in Gaza during Israel’s genocidal attack.

Around 200 students began the occupation after a rally on Nakba Day, setting up banners and tents inside the building. More students joined in as they day went on.

“After we occupied the Deputy Vice-Chancellor came down to say they would call the police on us at 2.30pm,” Cooper said.

“Staff formed a picketline outside, and students prepared for them to arrive. The police came and then left. We held the building overnight despite the threat to send the police in again.

“At Melbourne University the encampment has grown massively since it was set up. The first couple of nights, there were 15 tents. There’s now over 100 tents all across one side of the South Lawn.

“People have been very receptive to it. Some people that we met leafleting have just come and set up a tent that night after talking to them in the day.

“A number of us in Uni Melb For Palestine since the start of semester have been trying to push outwards as much as possible and establish an orientation to getting more students involved.

“That hasn’t necessarily been the dominant approach. But the encampment has been a major factor in shifting that because of the amount of enthusiasm and interest in it.

“It’s created a very strong sense of community and collective culture around the campaign, which has made it easier to mobilise people.

“The level of support has produced increasing pressure on the uni, contributing to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s resignation.

“From what we understand he had no intention of stepping down so soon. But management is very divided over what to do about the encampment. The Vice-Chancellor sent out an email saying we have a right to protest, and as long as students don’t engage in hate speech, they’re allowed to camp.

“It seems that his resignation may be related to the fact that there was a desire for much stronger action against the protest from others in management.

“The rallies in support of the camp have had an electric atmosphere and have mobilised significant numbers of people, often at extremely short notice. The largest had up to 500 people.

“The second rally marched into Arts West and stayed in the building for a little while, and then marched to the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We’ve had really strong union support. One recent rally was called by the NTEU and was supported by the students.

“Even though there’s been a lot of enthusiasm, we still need to translate that into systematic building work to capitalise on the level of interest. The next step is going from hundreds of people involved to thousands of students alongside staff—and stepping up the pressure on university management.”


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