Dialogue prevails as Australian campus Gaza protests recede

Emotions and rhetoric run high, but student campers are packing up

May 24, 2024
Source: Instagram

Conversation is trumping confrontation at Australian universities, as protest camps gradually disband and administrators resist demands to treat pro-Palestine activists with a heavy hand.

Protesters have ended their week-long occupation of the University of Melbourne’s Arts West building and promised to dismantle their encampment on a nearby lawn, claiming that the university has promised to disclose all its research partnerships with weapons manufacturers. “This is a major win,” activist group UniMelb for Palestine proclaimed.

In a statement posted on its website, the university committed to “additional disclosure of [our] research grant arrangements as they relate to research projects, the parties who support that research and the quantum”. The disclosures are subject to confidentiality, security and researcher safety caveats, the statement added.

A camp at La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus was disbanded on 21 May, four days after administrators ordered its removal, while protesters at Monash University abandoned their encampment on 17 May. Security staff helped them pack up and stored camping gear for absent protesters, Monash said.

Camps persist elsewhere, although a “closing rally” at the Deakin University encampment was scheduled for 23 May, nine days after administrators requested its disbandment. Melbourne protesters’ pledge to pack up their camp on the morning of 23 May had not eventuated by late afternoon.

An encampment at the Australian National University remains in place a week after administrators ordered its removal. A university spokesman said the inhabitants had been “invited to multiple meetings” with the vice-chancellor and other executives to discuss their demands.

Protesters also remain encamped at RMIT UniversityTimes Higher Education was told that the encampment had been peaceful, with no disruptions to classes, and administrators were in ongoing discussions with the organisers.

Protesters and their opponents continued to trade barbs even as tensions recede. Camp residents have accused university administrators of deleting protest emails from staff inboxes, and masked thugs of tearing down placards, bashing tents and taunting campers with sirens and megaphones.

petition accused Melbourne of threatening protesting students with enrolment sanctions and possible expulsion. “This is all because they have stood up to a university that preaches human rights and decolonisation, and yet is involved in a genocidal weapons supply chain,” the text reads.

The protests have drawn both support and resentment, with some bristling at the disruption. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne graduate and former Victorian Liberal Party MP Matthew Bach said expulsion was justified for students who had defied formal warnings to leave the Arts West building.

Melbourne said the extra revelations about its research partnerships would “provide greater transparency and remove ambiguity”. UniMelb for Palestine said disclosure of Melbourne’s “unethical ties to weapons manufacturers” was just the first step. “We will not rest until full divestment is achieved.”

The group is targeting the university’s partnerships with aerospace and defence companies Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems and Rosebank Engineering. Melbourne said all its partnerships had undergone “a rigorous due diligence process” and complied with defence industry security legislation and ethics and integrity codes.

It said projects supported by Lockheed Martin included student research into powerline safety monitoring and simplified drone control for firefighters. Work with Boeing included shielding aircraft surfaces from viruses and managing waste from decommissioned aircraft.

Shadow education minister Sarah Henderson said Melbourne’s agreement to divulge more information represented “capitulation” to the protesters’ intimidation and lawlessness. “This deal not only risks further protests at the Parkville campus but rewards conduct which is fuelling antisemitic hate,” she said.


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