OA4P Issues Statement Response to the Arrest of 16 Protestors at University Sit-In and Subsequent Statement from the University

23 May 2024

Read the statement from the University here.

At approximately 8:00am on Thursday, students from the Oxford Action for Palestine Coalition began a peaceful sit-in at the Administration offices in Wellington Square to demand that the University meet after seventeen days of non-response. The University Administration immediately called the police on the protestors, resulting in sixteen arrests. Members of the University community rallied in response for the next several hours, and were confronted with unprecedented volumes of police brutality amid the protests. On Thursday evening, the University issued a statement regarding the day's events, blaming the peaceful protestors for the day's violence and continuing to refuse to meet with the coalition.

The Oxford Action for Palestine coalition issued the following statement on Thursday night, following the conclusion of the sit-in, arrests, and subsequent protests:

On 6 May, OA4P established our Gaza solidarity encampment outside the Pitt Rivers Museum, calling on the University of Oxford to end their role in facilitating israel's ongoing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid of the Palestinian people. The day we founded the encampment coincided with israel's ground assault on Rafah – and since then, Gaza has faced unimaginable volumes of violence. Over 800,000 people have been forced to flee the area. israel's blocking of food, fuel, and medical supplies has triggered widespread famine and shortages of care. Decomposed bodies of 62 Palestinians were discovered at another mass grave at al-Shifa hospital, the seventh found so far in Gaza. israel has continued carpet bombing neighbourhoods across the strip, from southern Rafah to Jabalia refugee camp in the north – where a journalist has described attacks as "one of the most rapid mass killings of civilians" since the early days of the genocide. On Nakba Day (May 15), israel bombed Nuseirat refugee camp and targeted a school sheltering over 12,000 refugees. Pressure from the international community is rising, especially in light of the request for arrest warrants for President Netanyahu and Defence Minister Gallant, by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians has notified the University of Oxford, among 80 British institutions, of possible complicity through its investments, in israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people.

The scale of the devastation in Gaza is incomprehensible, and with each passing hour of this genocide the University sinks more firmly into the wrong side of history. In the 17 days since we've established our encampment, OA4P has done everything in its power to urge the University of Oxford to stop profiting off of israel's genocide in Gaza and its ongoing occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism across historic Palestine. We have emailed meeting requests to the Administration, hand-delivered our demands to Irene Tracey, rallied in huge numbers, staged die-ins, and most recently, established a second solidarity encampment in front of the Radcliffe Camera. Over 2,600 students, 600 members of faculty and staff, 14 local trade unions, and 200 University healthcare workers have signed open letters calling on the University of Oxford to cut ties with israeli genocide, occupation, and apartheid. Over 35 college common rooms have passed motions in support of our demands. Thousands on campus have mobilised, and millions around the world have watched as we have mounted the largest movement for a free Palestine in the history of the University of Oxford.

Students initiated today's sit-in after exhausting all other avenues of communication with the Administration, following seventeen days of non-response. We hoped that a peaceful sit-in would force Irene Tracey to acknowledge the urgency of our demands and agree to negotiate with our coalition. Instead of engaging in productive dialogue with her students, Vice-Chancellor Irene Tracey chose to immediately evacuate the building, place it on lockdown, and call the police, who arrived in large numbers an hour later. After a short briefing by the police, the students agreed to vacate the premises peacefully. However, the police refused to allow the students to leave, confiscated their phones, and placed them under arrest. Over the next 5 hours, the students were confined in the office, denied access to the bathroom, and incrementally taken to police stations.

By 9:40am, over a hundred students, faculty, and staff rallied outside at Wellington Square, and were shocked by the disproportionate police response. Police violently pushed protestors without warning, threw them to the ground, and inched their van through a crowd of seated students over the course of two hours. Multiple students were punched in the face and left bleeding, grabbed by the shirt and flung to the ground with abrasions, and students' glasses were broken. By choosing to escalate with police action, the university response enabled an unprecedented level of violence against students of the University. Over 30 police vehicles were spotted in the area, including K-9 units (police dogs), and at 12:27pm a picture of a police drone being set up in Somerville College was taken. By 2:00pm, the mass student and faculty protest was violently broken up by police. Partially in response, students made their way to the H B Allen Centre to protest the Conference of Colleges meeting taking place in the building, which continued for several hours.

As of 7:30pm, the sixteen individuals placed under arrest were still being held in detention. The legal basis of the arrests were under the charge of aggravated trespassing. The nature of this offence is such that it is entirely within the discretion of the University whether to pursue these charges. This incident became a police matter because the University decided to make it a police matter.

Irene Tracey's violent response to peaceful student protestors today indicates that she would rather criminalise, silence, and endanger Oxford students instead of confronting her enabling of israel's genocide in Gaza. Today's statement from Irene Tracey's office continues this alarming trend, using language which misrepresents OA4P's actions today, lies about our aims as a coalition, and parrots political fearmongering language which places us in harm's way. The statement is a bad-faith act of desperation being used by the University to distract from the growing support for OA4P, and we are obligated to correct the litany of misinformation it contains.

First, we are appalled by the University's mischaracterisation of our demonstration as a violent action. Bankrolling genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing is violent – protesting genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing is not. Our demonstration this morning did not include a 'forcible overpowering of the receptionist', and any attempts at describing the moment student protestors entered the building is an effort to distract attention from Irene Tracey's decision to unleash the full force of Thames Valley Police on a peaceful demonstration. Our lawyers have reviewed the CCTV footage of the protesters entering the building via the reception and assure us that there is no basis for an allegation of "physically handling the receptionist." In fact, when passing over the reception desk, student protestors communicated with and also apologised to the receptionist for any inconvenience to her. We prioritise the safety and welfare of all members of the University, especially because our coalition includes faculty, staff, and the UCU. Our struggle is with the University administration that refuses to meet with us, and it is unfortunate that their inaction is causing so much disruption to University operations.

Second, the University's statement is littered with other dangerous language that demonises our students as violent agitators. This language has repeatedly been used by the University, and every time they further this narrative, we are made targets to violence and hate. Just last night, our encampment was attacked by a hostile actor armed with a knife, hurling vulgar antisemitic slurs at our Jewish community member who tried to de-escalate the situation. Last week, University security kicked students peacefully protesting at graduation; the week before that, our camp was attacked by a group of men insisting we were 'terrorists'. Since the establishment of our encampment we have been made visible targets through the fearmongering of the Prime Minister, irresponsible media, and the University Administration, all of which have placed us in danger to distract from the stark reality that they are aiding and abetting israel's genocidal assault on Gaza.

Third, we refute the University's claim that it has "consistently been in dialogue with concerned students and faculty, including people who are involved in the encampment." Despite the widespread support of our efforts, the University has never made a formal attempt to dialogue with those involved in the encampment, even after we have made repeated attempts to contact them via email and in person. Soon after the launch of our campaign, an individual on the senior leadership team messaged one of our encampment members informally on WhatsApp, at which point she politely requested he reply to the outstanding emails in his inbox from our coalition. No other meetings or attempts at contact have been made.

Fourth, the University accused OA4P of not being interested in dialogue in "good faith." In every communication to the University, we have expressed a clear desire to negotiate our demands. On 21 May, the University administration informed a delegation of faculty supportive of the encampment that they had concerns about a lack of transparency regarding OA4P’s membership. OA4P is a collective of University students and staff, a fact which we have mentioned repeatedly in all previous communications. Even so, on 22 May, to address their concern, and as a gesture of good faith, we emailed the University a list of named negotiators. In this same email, we wrote, “We request that the University commit to a scheduled meeting within 24 hours of agreeing to negotiate.” That the University would twist this request to say we “threatened escalatory action if the University did not respond within 24 hours” is not only inaccurate but demonstrates that it is in fact the University that is refusing to engage with OA4P in good faith.

Most concerning of all, there is no part of the University's statement which even remotely attempts to confront its enabling of israel's genocide in Gaza. From the US to the UK, Universities across the world have reacted with alarming aggression to student protests because they understand these protests constitute a lethal threat to a global status quo which legitimises and finances israel's ongoing genocide, occupation, and settler colonisation of historic Palestine. From students targeted by snipers at Indiana University to the battering of students at the University of Amsterdam, we stand in solidarity with those around the world who suffer police violence ordered by their University administrations. We understand that today's appalling police response and subsequent statement from the University are last-ditch efforts to distract from the duty the Administration has to meet with us and discuss our demands.

The Oxford University and Colleges Union (UCU) and UCU National have already issued a statement calling on the Vice-Chancellor to drop charges on all demonstrators arrested today, and reifying their call on the Administration to negotiate with us. Countless students, faculty, staff, and community members have voiced concerns about the alarming and disproportionate response to these peaceful student protests – and it is clear that today, the Oxford Action for Palestine coalition has only strengthened its widespread support and conviction for a free Palestine.

Irene Tracey's continued inaction on Gaza makes us vulnerable to further violence, and we can no longer wait idly while she refuses to meet with us. We do not wish to go down a continued path of conflict with the University, and we urge Irene Tracey to consider a new path forward: to drop the charges against today's protestors, agree to negotiate with our coalition immediately, and begin working to end its role in facilitating the ongoing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid of the Palestinian people. Thousands of student, staff, and faculty are waiting for the Administration to negotiate with OA4P. The world is watching. The choice lies with Irene Tracey.

For photos and videos of the protest and police brutality, visit our Press Kit. For live updates, visit our social media @OxAct4Pal on X, Instagram, and TikTok. For interviews and other enquiries, contact: m: 07341377729; e: oxpalpress@proton.me.