Gaza Can't Wait: Addressing the University's Delays in Negotiations

29 May 2024

Over the past several days, the world has watched in outrage as israel has intensified its assault on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have been forced to shelter. On Sunday night, israel conducted an airstrike which killed at least 45 people. We are haunted by scenes of the massacre: tents on fire, people wailing in the smoke, the charred, dismembered bodies of small children. The University of Oxford bears the stain of quiet complicity in these grotesque murders. We protest to compel our institution to recognise that it must play its part in stopping the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. There is no time to waste.

The University appears not to feel this urgency. On 23 May, after calling the police to arrest and brutalise peaceful protestors seeking a meeting, the University issued a statement attacking its own community and evading the moral imperative of our demands. Yesterday, after widespread condemnation of their response to last week's protest, the University has chosen to issue yet another statement. We note the drastic shift in tone from their statement of 23 May: the University sounds softer, more cowed, yet equally ineffectual, and ultimately, equally wrong. They state that "None of us want to see the police have to intervene in this way", as if the brutality of Thursday were an unfortunate inevitability, rather than a consequence of administrators' decisions. They acknowledge the need for checks on the "welfare" of Thursday’s protesters, but do not claim responsibility for their distress (nor can they accurately count them: 13 arrestees were current students, not 12, as the University claims). They also imply a willingness to enter into conversation: "After a tough few days for our community, we hope we can all unite around [...] open dialogue, respectful debate, and tolerance."

We appreciate that the University acknowledges its obligation to dialogue with the countless students, faculty, and staff who were rightfully horrified by Thursday's scenes on Little Clarendon Street. But a statement is not action, nor is it negotiations. OA4P recognises the University's delay for what it is: an attempt to evade the necessity of immediate and concrete action.

Genocide does not operate on the University's timeline of delay, and neither can we. On 23 May, the University reiterated that it is unwilling to enter into negotiations with OA4P because we have not been "transparent about [our] membership nor whose interests [we] represent", and because of the "prejudicial nature of [our] preconditions". Below, we directly refute these attempts to delay negotiations. With these matters clarified, we hope the University administration will agree that there can be no justification for their continued refusal to enter into meaningful, action-oriented dialogue with us.

First, our preconditions for negotiations are simple: we want the University to indicate a willingness to negotiate in good faith. We have asked that they commit to meeting within 24 hours of agreeing to negotiate, schedule regular meetings thereafter, and guarantee amnesty for all students involved in the encampment. We never once requested preconditions of a "prejudicial" nature, nor did we ask for "progress on [our] six demands" prior to negotiations.

We have been transparent about whose interests we represent since our first day. OA4P represent the "interests" of the Palestinian people – interests that lie in self-determination, liberation, and an end to israel's brutalisation and terror.​​​​ ​​​​​Our demands therefore seek to end the University of Oxford's complicity in israel's genocide, occupation, and ongoing colonisation of Palestine.

We remain proud and clear about who we are: OA4P is a student-led collective dedicated to Palestinian liberation. Those representing us in negotiations with the University will be students, accompanied by members of Oxford's faculty, including a UCU representative. We have communicated the names of the student negotiating team representatives to the Vice-Chancellor. Because our demands address the University's financial holdings, banking systems, ties to israeli universities, and research partnerships with arms manufacturers, they concern all members of the University – faculty, staff, and students alike. Over 2,800 students (11 percent of the student body), 33 college common rooms, several student organisations, 636 faculty and staff, Oxford's branch of the UCU, and a coalition of Jewish faculty have recognised this in letters and statements of support. Support for OA4P within the University grows every day.

However, the University's actions do not only concern its members. Its size, wealth, and prestige make it a dominant force in every corner of the city, as well as on the international stage. The University is the largest employer in Oxfordshire. The collegiate University's vast landholdings render much of the city inaccessible to Oxford residents. For centuries, members of the University have been central to constructing the colonial machinery that impacts the lives of marginalised people all over the world, including many of the migrant communities represented in Oxford.

It is therefore essential to our movement that Oxford residents are involved in our broader work towards a better University. Residents of Oxford eat, work, and grieve alongside us in our Liberated Zones. They show up in force to our demonstrations and rallies. They share their knowledge in teach-ins. Extraordinarily generous donations from their kitchens keep us fed. Like the Rhodes Must Fall movement before it, the Oxford movement for Palestinian liberation needs all of us, and we are both proud and grateful to stand alongside those who call this city home.

This is who we are, and this is what we seek. The University's claim that we have not been 'transparent' about these issues is a smokescreen that functions to distract from their failure to address the horrors unfolding in Gaza. Less than 24 hours after the University scrambled to justify the violent policing of members of its own community, the ICJ ordered israel to immediately halt its offensive in Rafah – and less than 48 hours after that, israel bombed Rafah over sixty times, razing tents of the displaced to the ground. These incomprehensible horrors demand our witness and our action. Still, the University refuses transparency about its own role in a genocide that more of the international community rushes to denounce with each passing hour.

Gaza cannot wait, and neither can we. If the Vice-Chancellor still claims to be confused about the issues we've addressed here, she can come and speak with us. Members of OA4P are here, every day, camping in front of the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Radcliffe Camera. Every corner of the University community is calling on the Vice-Chancellor to respond, and urgently. The choice is Irene Tracey's.