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Palestine Demonstration Enters Main Library Lobby

On Wednesday 6 March, a group of demonstrators entered the Main Library lobby. Led by a student with a loudspeaker, the group chanted slogans including ‘This Uni Is Complicit’ and ‘From The River To The Sea, Palestine Will Be Free’. The St Andrews Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) organised the event, which was part of ongoing demonstrations that occur every Wednesday outside College Gate. 


At noon, the demonstrators marched through St Andrews, entering the library around an hour later. After a few minutes of chanting in the lobby, the group broke up — some demonstrators left the library, and some went inside the building to hand out pamphlets.


In a statement to The Saint, the SWSS said,“On March 6th, we lead our demonstration into the Main Library, calling the University to hear our demands. This follows walkouts protesting university complicity in the dispossession and killing of Palestinians. Management’s apathy has pushed us to engage decisively: we reject attempts to repress our voices. Our campaign demands the University cuts ties with complicit companies, and calls for a ceasefire. The University must uphold ethical standards and refuse to support entities complicit in genocide. Palestinians don’t have to prove innocence to earn our empathy: SWSS stands in unwavering solidarity with all oppressed people and demands accountability from our institution.”


One demonstrator, who wished to be anonymous, spoke to The Saint. “These are our demands right here,” they said, showing a handout and describing the demands. “Divestments from any companies which support the oppression of Palestinian people; to call for an unconditional and permanent ceasefire; to give full support to students and staff in Palestine, or those affected by events in Palestine, and to engage in an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.”


The Saint spoke to a second demonstrator, who also wished to be anonymous. “We do have another list of demands that went out before this one,” the second demonstrator said. “[The University] decided to double the scholarships that they were giving out, which was good, but that's the only demand they actually agreed to so far. And that list had a very long and very detailed things, actions [sic] that we could take and ways to support Palestinian people that were completely ignored by the University,” they added. 


The chant ‘From The River To The Sea, Palestine Will Be Free’, is “calling for Palestinian liberation,” said the first demonstrator. “Currently, Palestinians are occupied in Gaza and the West Bank, and [the phrase] is calling for their freedom. [...] Focusing on the semantics of it is distracting from the real point of why we’re here,” they added.


On its website, the American Jewish Committee defines ‘From the River to the Sea’ as antisemitic. It says the phrase “calls for the establishment of a State of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel and its people.”


Some politicians and academics have defended the phrase, including Ahmad Khalidi, an Oxford researcher who previously advised the Palestinian delegation during Arab-Israeli peace talks in the 1990s. “It is perfectly possible for both [Palestinian and Israeli] people to be free between the river and the sea,” Khalidi told The New York Times in November 2023

The Labour Party suspended an MP for using a variation of the phrase in October 2023. On 11 March 2024, a Labour spokesperson announced that the MP had been reinstated after an internal investigation.


In the Principal’s Start of Semester Message on 09 January this year, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Sally Mapstone wrote:

 

“In our community there are differing and nuanced points of view of [the Israel-Gaza] war, and the history which preceded it. There is also understandably high emotion, a desire for an end to the devastating impact of the conflict on innocent civilians, and a belief that all parties to the war should be accountable under international law. What there is not, however, is agreement amongst you on the way in which peace should be achieved. [...] St Andrews takes no side but the side of humanity, and as a leader, my job is to listen to, reflect, and represent the diversity and totality of the views of this community, and to provide pastoral support to all those affected directly, or indirectly. That will remain the case. St Andrews must be a place where every single one of us can feel safe, heard, and valued, and where debate, discussion, and campaigning, if desired, can take place unfettered by the perception that the institution, and those in positions of leadership, have picked a side. We are a university, not a political or lobbying group. That is why leadership in our context should not adopt positions which fail to take fair account of the totality of views.”


Image by Remi Mathis

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