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Australian students step up the global fight for Palestine

Updated: May 11

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, university students across the globe are taking measures into their own hands, including students throughout Australia. 

On Monday, RMIT ‘Students For Palestine’ established a Gaza Solidarity encampment in the Alumni Courtyard at their city campus.

“RMIT you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” protesters chanted.

This action came after University of Melbourne students assembled an encampment on the South Lawn at their campus on April 24.

Protests have continued to run daily, with over 60 tents there as of last week.

The students are specifically calling on the university to cut all ties with weapons manufacturers including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, which the university receives funding from. 

They are “not moving until demands are met”.

The student movement for Palestine started at New York’s Columbia University on April 17.

Since then, students have encountered retaliation from university administrations and local police, and have sparked debate in the media. 

So far over 1000 people have been arrested on college campuses across the US during Pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Perceived inaction from governments in light of the 34,000 Palestinian deaths is motivating students to camp out to draw attention to the cause.

After the May 6 rally, RMIT President and Vice-Chancellor Alec Cameron released a statement to students permitting the protest to continue but reiterating that “violence, threats, harassment or intimidation” will not be tolerated. 

“RMIT is committed to ensuring our students and staff can exercise their freedom of speech, however such actions must not disrupt or threaten the safety or wellbeing of our community.”

These student protests call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, for institutions to disclose all financial investments in Zionist organisations and to divest of such arrangements. They also demand all charges and disciplinary action against student protestors be dropped.

These encampments mark an ‘upping of stakes’, following numerous student protests since the war began.

On April 18, an estimated 400 students took over Melbourne Central Shopping Centre during a pro-Palestine demonstration. 

The protest consisted of students from all of the major universities in Melbourne, as well as high schoolers and passionate members of the general public. 

Shirley is a key member of RMIT’s ‘Students for Palestine’ group and marched with fellow students to the State Library. 

“Every university, every school in Gaza has been bombed into rubble now, so students feel an identification with that. Like how can we just sit in class and pretend like nothing has happened,” she said.

The protesters gathered in front of Melbourne’s State Library (photo by Julia Sicilia).

As protesters carried posters and chanted “15,000 kids are dead, Albanese your hands are red” and "free free Palestine”, lines of police watched from the perimeters.

After listening to guest speakers, the party moved across the road and through Melbourne Central shopping centre, led by rally organiser, Gisele.

The Year 12 from Wheelers Hill Secondary College spoke directly to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as she said, “The masses will win”. 

“As young people, this is our fight. As the biggest crime of the generation, we have to be voting and keep coming out”

Another speaker climbed on a box and called for the end of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

High school teacher and long-term activist Omar Hassan, spoke at the protest. He encouraged the students who did not participate in the walk-out to take action.

“It’s important to think about the bigger picture when making choices. Opposing war is more important than grades.”

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, Shane Patton, spoke with 3AW radio host Tom Elliot on April 18 and discussed his recent experiences with protests in the CBD.

He said the number of protests occurring in Melbourne, an average of 21 a week, pull resources away from “preventing and investigating crimes” and instead towards policing demonstrations. 

Patton described many of the people attending rallies as “protesters without a cause” as “half of them don’t even know what they are protesting for” and come solely with the intention of “being involved in conflict” with officials. 

Currently, permission is not needed from the City of Melbourne to conduct a protest, demonstration or other form of public assembly.

However, the Police Commissioner suggested there is talk of implementing mandatory protest permits, similar to those required in other state capital cities.

The leaders of ‘Students for Palestine’ condemn the idea of introducing such a sanction. 

“If anti-protest laws are introduced, we will break them”.

The ‘Students for Palestine’ group plans to hold another walk-out protest on May 15 and encampments continue around the country.


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