Protesters defy new demands to remove university camps

Holly Hales, Rachael Ward and Bray Boland |

Protesters at a university building named it Mahmoud Hall after a Palestinian who died in  Gaza.
Protesters at a university building named it Mahmoud Hall after a Palestinian who died in Gaza.

Pro-Palestine protesters are defying renewed demands to remove university encampments, with 150 classes cancelled at one campus and claims another institution threatened students with expulsion.

Camps have been set up at five universities in Victoria and one in every other state and the ACT.

The University of Melbourne has insisted protesters leave its Parkville campus after more than 100 students spent a night in the Arts West building in tents along with unfurled banners and flags.

The group has dubbed the building “Mahmoud Hall” in honour of Mahmoud Alnaouq, a young Palestinian man killed in the Israel-Gaza war who was meant to start his studies at the university.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Wesley said more than 6000 students were impacted by the cancellation of 150 classes inside the occupied building.

He said police had provided advice on how to end the protest while those who refuse to move on have been warned they could be referred to police or face disciplinary action.

“Students have a right to protest but that is not a blank cheque,” he said.

“They have crossed a line when they have occupied the Arts West building.”

The Pro Palestine encampment at the University of Melbourne.
Tents and placards have been set up at the Pro Palestine encampment at the University of Melbourne. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Some students and tutors were frustrated when they found the building inaccessible. 

One woman, who did not want to be named, said she had travelled almost an hour to campus before being told her class was cancelled.

Students at Deakin University in Burwood are also resisting repeated calls to disband their encampment.

Chancellor Professor Iain Martin hit out at “unacceptable language and behaviour” from some protesters, including some not believed to be students.

He said the university had not asked protesters to stop all action but rather remove the encampment as it compromised a right to work and learn “free of impediment, intimidation, threat and harassment”.

Student organiser Jasmine Duff told AAP there were no plans to leave and an emergency rally would be called if police or security move in. 

A sign credited to Jewish students on the door of the building.
A sign credited to Jewish students was displayed on a building at the University of Melbourne. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

At Monash University, protesters claim nine organisers are accused of misconduct and threatened with suspension or expulsion.

They say the allegations relate to non-violently defending the pro-Palestine encampment against pro-Israel activists.

Monash University said it was investigating complaints about students’ misconduct and issued a number of formal notices.

Encampment organiser Josiah Downey said the group had no plans to alter their demands.

University of Sydney demonstrators have not ruled out occupying a building like students in Melbourne.

Student Representative president Harrison Brennan said there was a disagreement over talks with the university, as he called for negotiations to be held in public.

“We are insistent on the fact those discussions should be open to other staff and students to be able to hold the university to account and to be able to ask questions,” Mr Brennan told reporters.

Australian National University in Canberra has also told students to disband their camp by Friday, although they are free to take part in other forms of protest.

Victorian health minister Mary-Anne Thomas said universities have the power to decide their response to the encampments.

“Being able to protest on campus is absolutely a fundamental right but again, when it impinges on the rights of others, that is when we have concerns,” she said.

Many of the demonstrations marked the 76th anniversary of The Nakba, the mass displacement and dispossession of millions of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the creation of the state of Israel.

Student encampments, with demands for universities to cut ties with Israel and associated weapons manufacturers, popped up at campuses across Australia following similar protests in the United States.

PRO-PALESTINE ENCAMPMENTS AT AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITIES:

* NSW: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong

* VIC: University of Melbourne, Deakin University, Monash University, RMIT University, Latrobe University

* SA: University of Adelaide

* QLD: University of Queensland

* WA: Curtin University

* TAS: University of Tasmania

* ACT: Australian National University.

AAP