Photo of the student encampment on the green heart. A prominent banner reads "The Gaza heart liberated zone"

UCU/UNISON joint statement of support of the Encampment – Camp Eviction

At 5am this morning, a squadron of bailiffs descended on the Green Heart and forcibly evicted our students from campus. This comes less than 48 hours after the Encampment has been served with a Possession Order, and represents an aggressive choice, clearly timed in order to punish and go unchallenged. Our unions strongly condemn this unnecessary, bullyish move on the part of our University, which instead of engaging in dialogue has decided to use force against its own students. 

For over two months, the Encampment across the Green Heart embodied the values of peaceful protest against genocide and served as a beacon of free speech for those of us refusing to live in a world where Palestinian lives don’t matter. Despite repeated attempts to vilify and evict them on the part of Senior Management, the Encampment brought life and joy to our campus, showing us all how solidarity works in practice. We understand that some of our members may have occasionally perceived the Encampment as disruptive of the “normal” functioning of the Campus. However, nothing is “normal” is a world where the death toll on the ground in Gaza has reached over 180,000 casualties, where over 80% of Gaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed and the enclave has been experiencing man-made famine for weeks, not to speak of systematic torture of Palestinians living on the West Bank. Disruption represents the cornerstone of any meaningful protest action. Without disruption, no progressive cause over the past century and half would have been gained: there would be no women’s suffrage, Civil Rights, or end to South African apartheid.  A much larger proportion of our membership has come forward to commend the students on their principled action, hailing the vibrant community atmosphere and the newfound sense of hope that the camp has brought to our working lives.

A Possession Order, served only on Tuesday, means that the courts ruled in favour of the University. The judge agreed that the Encampment has been peaceful. However, he argued that the University’s interests as the undisputed owner of the land, and its right to dispose of it as it wishes, outweighed the encampment members’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The logic of the court’s decision thus favours corporate interests over broader human rights. We are disappointed that the court did not give more weight to the right to protest for what many of us perceive as our basic human duty to speak up in the face of ongoing genocide and anti-Palestinian racism. The judge has also relied heavily on the University’s own recently updated Freedom of Speech policy, which has not been agreed with campus unions, remains contested, and has been used to to prevent, rather than facilitate, free speech.     

The judge has further highlighted the Vice Chancellor’s claim that the University Management will meet with students to hear their grievances once the encampment has been taken down. We welcome this offer. However, we categorically refuse any future attempt on the part of the SMT to invite to the negotiating table any single group defined along ethno-nationalist or religious lines, be that JSOC or ISOC. The Encampment consists of a broad coalition of student societies and groups, as well as a broader alliance with staff and unions, and the position it represents can not be divided along sectarian lines. 

The costs of the court case remain to be determined, and could possibly be extremely high for the Encampment if the Management pursues the vindictive attitude demonstrated this morning. It is deeply saddening that instead of engaging in meaningful conversation over our institution’s possible involvement in profiting from genocide, the Management has instead resorted to taking its own students to court. Other institutions (UCL, Goldsmiths) have found a more graceful way to engage with the most pressing human rights issue of our time. Our Management’s cowardly action stands in striking contrast to the bravery of the students, including a minority student who revealed her identity in order to allow for the court case to proceed. She alone now risks bearing the burden of the costs. The sum the University decides to impose will send a strong message about how our institution values its relationship with its students and the local community. The Encampment has not brought any substantial financial damage to one of the richest universities in the UK. To the contrary, it has demonstrated the value of principled and fearless global citizenship, and forged invaluable and unprecedented links of solidarity with diverse local communities across Birmingham. These are, in fact, our University’s very own corporate goals. We thus urge the SMT to show grace and mercy in claiming the cost of the litigation, for mercy is the virtue of the truly great.    

The Encampment at Birmingham may have reached its end, but the broader struggle for justice in Palestine and the wider world continues.

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