15 May 2024

Anti-war protest at Cambridge University ahead of graduation ceremonies

15 May 2024

A protest at Cambridge University against the war in Gaza has spread to a lawn outside Senate House, where members of the university have graduated since the 18th century.

Graduation ceremonies are due to take place this Friday and Saturday, according to the university’s website.

Protesters have vowed to continue until a set of demands are met, and on Wednesday they chanted: “Let your students graduate; come and negotiate.”

The university said it would be “happy to talk with our students and engage with them” but it was “impossible to have a conversation with an anonymous group”.

An encampment outside King’s College appeared at the start of last week, and now activists have also pitched a ring of almost 20 tents on Senate House Lawn.

Palestine flags have been draped from the Grade II-listed urn in the centre of the lawn, and a white sheet has been fixed below it with “welcome to liberated zone” written on it.

The flags have also been taped to the columns of Senate House and to some walls, and a “please keep off the grass” sign modified so it reads: “please keep off Palestine”.

A banner has also been taped to the doors of Senate House which read “Refaat’s house”, and a number of protesters wearing face coverings sat by the door at the top of some steps.

The writer and literary scholar Refaat Alareer was killed in an air strike in Gaza City in December.

On Wednesday, protesters took turns on a megaphone to address a crowd of more than 100 people who had gathered in a thoroughfare between Senate House and Great St Mary’s Church.

One of them, wearing a face covering, said they “do not want to disturb those who are graduating” this week and that “all we want is for the university to take this seriously”.

A police officer watched on from a distance, beside a marked van, as the crowd chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

We remain ready for constructive engagement with our students, but it is impossible to have a conversation with an anonymous group

Among the other chants were “Israel is a terrorist state”, and a banner displayed on a wall by the protest encampment outside Senate House read “there are no universities left in Gaza”.

The protesters marched around Cambridge city centre, chanting as they went, and sat down outside the Old Schools University Offices where more speeches were made using a megaphone.

Professor Bhaskar Vira, pro-vice-chancellor for education at the University of Cambridge, said: “The University has been in regular and ongoing contact with students who have been impacted by the tragic events in Gaza and Palestine.

“We support freedom of speech and protest within the law.

“From the first day of this protest last week, with my colleague Prof Kamal Munir, we have been extremely clear that we would be happy to talk with our students and engage with them.

“To date we have received only anonymous emails.

“We remain ready for constructive engagement with our students, but it is impossible to have a conversation with an anonymous group.”

A Cambridge student, who did not wish to be named, said last week that the protesters were demanding that the university “disclose all of its research collaborations and financial ties with companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s genocide and then to divest from these”.

“We will be staying here until our demands are met,” she said.

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