On 20th January 2009, Kings College students occupied a lecture theatre to demand the immediate revocation of then Israeli President Shimon Peres’s Honorary Doctorate, awarded to him the previous November by the College without consultation of the students. Shimon Peres was dubbed “the butcher of Qana” for his role in the massacre of this Lebanese village in 1996. As the Israeli president, he was responsible for the 2009 massacre in Gaza and the ongoing blockade.
Over 50 students took over a lecture theatre at the Central London Strand campus on the morning of the 20th, following a wave of protest occupations that have swept across UK universities.
SOAS, LSE and Essex universities began the movement in solidarity with Palestine after the start of the Gaza onslaught, and numerous other universities followed. Kings students took action hoping to put pressure on the university to condemn the Israeli offence on Gaza and Revoke Peres’s award and show solidarity to the people in Gaza.
The move came following the King’s College Council decision to award President Shimon Peres with an honorary doctorate for “recognition of the efforts of Mr Peres to find a peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East” in November 2008, and the subsequent silence of the Principal following the devastating assault on the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli invasion and attack on Gaza killed over thousands of Palestinians and injured tens of thousands. Many thousands of civilians were left homeless. There were international calls for an investigation into the war crimes committed during the attack, wherein Israel stood accused of using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs, attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men in marked vehicles, and killing large numbers of policemen who had no military role, amongst other actions.
Occupation spokeswoman Victoria said, “The Principal’s initial response did not answer our concerns. Peres’s role in the Qana massacre in April 1996, involving the shelling of a UN refugee camp in Lebanon, was completely ignored. Given the very serious war crimes allegations that Israel is now facing due to its recent actions in the Gaza Strip, we are once again calling on the doctorate to be immediately revoked by King’s College London.”
One medicine student said: “It’s great seeing the student support for this event. We really feel we’re contributing to a good cause. It really shows that students can have their say on things that matter to them.”
The students also demanded that King’s College issue a formal statement condemning the Israeli action and bombardment of Gaza Islamic University, and provide a transparent list of their arms investments in Israel.
THE OCCUPATION’S DEMANDS IN FULL:
1) King’s College London should issue a formal statement condemning Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, acknowledging particularly the effect on educational institutions such as the bombing of the Gaza Islamic University and expressing concern about war crimes allegations. King’s College should encourage other universities in the Russell Group to make such a call, as well as informing the national press and the UK and Israeli governments of this call.
2) Shimon Peres’s honorary doctorate be immediately revoked by King’s College London. As Israeli Head of State, and having issued public support for potential war crimes in the Gaza Strip, we believe that the vast majority of the King’s College community would support this doctorate being immediately revoked as a gesture to show that King’s College is concerned by Israel’s actions in Gaza.
3) King’s College London should provide five fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students, giving such students an opportunity to an education which the attack on Gaza and the previous blockade has denied to them.
4) King’s College London should facilitate a cross-campus fundraising day to raise money for the crisis in Gaza. This should be sent to the charity Medical Aid For Palestinians.
5) King’s College London should establish links with universities and other educational institutions affected by the crisis in Gaza in solidarity with their plight.
6) King’s College London should present us with a transparent list of investments in the arms trade, particularly those in GKN. King’s College should divest immediately from the arms trade.
7) Any old books, computers or other unwanted teaching/administrative resources should as soon as possible or at the end of this term be donated to universities or schools in the Gaza Strip that have been affected by Israel’s attack.
8) There should be no repercussions for any students involved in this protest. Universities should be a place where freedom of expression is encouraged, and the student movement in the UK and around the world has a proud tradition of organizing protest actions, whether against South African Apartheid or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After almost two weeks occupying a lecture theatre, on Feb. 1, 2009, King’s College London students declared victory. “The college has agreed to a series of measures to directly address the current crisis in Gaza, including the provision of scholarships for those directly affected by the crisis, and the donation of educational resources to institutions in Palestine”, said Mido Khan on behalf of the student protesters. “In addition, the college has acknowledged the scale of discontent that the award to Peres has generated among the student population, particularly considering the award in the context of what has happened recently in Gaza.” The students agreed to cease their occupation after college management agreed to publish a statement outlining the position of the College on these issues and the humanitarian measures undertaken in the wake of the occupation.
“This signals the reintroduction of student activism as a powerful agent for political change, and shows us that if we make a stand then we can make a difference”, said Hesham Yafai.
The occupation ‘s Homepage: http://www.kcloccupation.blogspot.com is still up though no longer actively added to.