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Oxford students arrested after violent crackdown on pro-Palestine protest

Over a dozen people detained during sit-in demanding negotiations with university administrators
Pro-Palestinian supporters block a police van in Oxford, central England, on 7 May 2024 (Screengrab/X/Madeleine Jane)
Pro-Palestinian supporters sit in front of a police van in Oxford, central England, on 7 May 2024 (Screengrab/X/Madeleine Jane)

Over a dozen students were arrested at Oxford University on Thursday, after police cracked down on a protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. 

For the past two weeks, Oxford students have launched protests and an encampment, demanding the university end investments in and partnerships with companies and institutions involved in Israel's war on Gaza, and its occupation of Palestinian land. 

According to Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P), students launched a peaceful sit-in on Thursday morning in the Wellington Square office building to demand that the university administration - which has yet to negotiate - meet with the protesters. 

The group said in a statement that instead of engaging in dialogue, the university's vice chancellor placed the building under lockdown and called the police. 

"When informed of the threat of arrest, the students willingly stood up and voluntar[ily] offered to vacate the premises," OA4P said in a statement. "In an escalatory move, all students were arrested and their phones were confiscated, taking away their ability to record or film from inside."

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Activists said that 16 students were arrested, and denied bathroom access while detained in the building. 

"It is evident that the Administration would rather arrest, silence and physically assault its own students than confront its enabling of Israel's genocide in Gaza," the statement read. 

Later on Thursday, Oxford University accused students of using “direct action tactics” that required a police response.

In a letter sent to students and staff, the university leadership accused student protesters of making “inaccurate statements and claims” about the institution, and “forcibly overpowering” the receptionist at a section of the university offices in Wellington Square.

The OA4P, however, denied the accusation, saying CCTV footage reviewed by lawyers proves that students entered the building peacefully.

The letter signed by the university's senior leadership, including Vice Chancellor Irene Tracey, listed actions it has taken in relation to the conflict in Gaza.

"We have begun to work on a collegiate University crisis scholarship scheme for students from Palestine; we have strengthened our CARA commitment to support academics at risk from the region; we have begun mapping out existing connections to universities in Gaza to determine how we can build on those connections; we are engaging with other Russell Group universities to explore what we can do collectively to contribute to the rebuilding process," it said.

"We do also remain absolutely committed to our continued dialogue with students and staff over how best we can support them and to work as an academic community to put in place scholarships and other resources to support Gaza."

All detained students were released on Thursday night, a member of the OA4P told Middle East Eye. No charges have been brought against them yet.

'Cut ties with apartheid'

Over 2,400 students, 600 members of staff and 14 local trade unions have called on Oxford University to "cut ties with Israeli genocide, occupation, and apartheid," the statement added. 

Scores of students and staff members rallied in defence of the arrested students on Thursday, with some blocking exits and others sitting in front of vehicles to prevent police from leaving with the detained students. 

A clip shared on social media showed one student being taken out of the Wellington Square office building on a stretcher. 

"We condemn Oxford vice chancellor Irene Tracey in the strongest possible terms for bringing in police to violently arrest her own students, engaged in peaceful protest against genocide," University and College Union (UCU), the UK's union for academics and higher education staff, said on X. 

Thames Valley Police in Oxford said it was "aware of an ongoing" protest at the university. It asked that "any photos or video of the incident is shared with us and not on social media". 

In recent weeks, students at several UK universities, including UCL, the University of Manchester and the University of Warwick, have launched tent encampments to demand divestment from Israel. 

MEE revealed earlier this month that Trinity College, the University of Cambridge's wealthiest college, voted to divest from all arms companies. But the college decided not to announce it publicly after an activist defaced a portrait inside Trinity of Lord Arthur Balfour.

The encampments in the UK come after violent crackdowns on pro-Palestine solidarity movements at campuses across the United States.

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