From a Gaza encampment

IssueJune - July 2024
The 40 tents of the Gaza Solidarity Camp Scotland outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh on 9 May. Photo: PN
Feature by PN, Anonymous

Over 15 Gaza solidarity camps (or ‘encampments’) have sprung up around the UK, following the example of those at more than 140 universities in the US which have often been met with police violence and mass arrests. Here in the UK, after occupations of two Bristol university buildings were forced to end in late March and early April (because of the threat of legal action), students began an encampment on 1 May. The focus, as elsewhere, is on getting institutions to break ties with companies supplying Israel’s military machine.

Some university occupations have succeeded in getting their administrations to either stop investing in ‘companies that primarily make or sell weapons and defence-related products or services’ (York university) or to review their ‘ethical investment policy’ (Goldsmiths, London).

Not all the camps are at universities. On 9 May, a #HackneyDivest camp was set up in front of Hackney town hall in East London, for example.

Also on 9 May, we interviewed someone who’d been living outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh for nearly a fortnight in the Gaza Solidarity Camp Scotland. They preferred to remain ‘Anonymous’, as many campers did (most were wearing COVID masks). First of all, we asked about how and why the camp started on 26 April.

ANONYMOUS: ‘There was a group that had set it all up on the Monday of that week. It was all taking place in a group chat that I wasn’t part of. I was told on Thursday afternoon [25 April]. So I turned up on Friday morning and everyone else had a tent with them! So I went home and grabbed a tent and we’ve been here ever since.

‘We’d been doing weekly protests [in Edinburgh] since 7 October, marching from the Mound in the centre of town, sometimes to parliament, sometimes we marched to one of the embassies, sometimes we marched kind of in a circle.

‘It had just gotten to the point where we were feeling these protests were not getting any attention any more. And we’d seen how there had been encampments taking place in the US, at Columbia university, for example, and all the other universities. There’s been a couple have popped up around the UK, in Manchester and Leeds.

‘So, we just kind of figured, well, other people are doing it, and we’ve got the parliament right here, so we might as well get in on some of that action.

‘On the first day that we started up the camp, the Friday before last, Jewish campers did the Shabbat gathering. I was raised Catholic, so it’s been quite enlightening for me and others like me to learn more about Jewish traditions.

“We have made it very clear in our camp guidelines that we are absolutely opposed to anti-semitism and we’ve made it abundantly clear that we are anti all forms of genocide”

‘We’ve had info from people who work within the parliament that word has gone round the parliament building that any one who engages with us will be suspended, including MSPs [members of the Scottish parliament – ed].

‘One thing that I’ve enjoyed about this situation is we’ve really brought the community together, which has been wonderful. On Friday, for example, Muslim prayers took place and about 50 people turned up, we had big tarps laid out on the ground here.

‘On Saturday, we hosted the weekly rally here and there was banner-making and dabkeh, the traditional Palestinian dance. It’s just been wonderful having people come together and having members of the public walk up and just talk to us and thank us for doing this and asking how they can help.

‘That’s something that’s really given me a lot of hope over the last week and a half.

‘This weekend just gone, a student encampment started up at Old College in the city centre and quite a lot of people who’d been sleeping here at our camp have moved over to that camp.

‘There’ve been a couple of older people staying but it’s mostly been younger folk. I’m in my mid-20s and I’m probably on the older end of the people who’ve been here the whole time.

‘I’ve been mostly keeping track of our food supplies and spare tents and blankets and medical supplies and things like that. We’ve had a lot of donations from really generous members of the public. There’s been a lot of food donations and also we get hot dinners most evenings from SKIFA [Scottish Kitchen Infrastructure For Activists – ed] and, occasionally, Food Not Bombs comes by as well.

‘In the first week, there was one person I’m aware of, was on hunger strike for a week and then, when she ended her strike, a couple of more people took up the hunger strike. We’ve got blood glucose monitors and blood pressure monitors, so we’ve been keeping track of the hunger strikers’ health.

‘We’ve had a quite a few campers who’re Palestinian or from other Arab states. I think a couple of the hunger strikers are Palestinian.

‘The people who’re in Rafah, living in a refugee camp, obviously, they’ve had their home destroyed, they’ve had their families massacred, they’re all living in squalor at the moment, all through the actions of the Israeli government and military. By staying in tents and by restricting their food intake, the hunger strikers are hoping to reflect that.

The slogan

PN: ‘There’s a big banner here with a slogan which some Jewish people see as a genocidal threat.’

ANONYMOUS: ‘The slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, I don’t agree with it being a threat.

‘My family are from Belfast, they’re Irish Republicans and lived through the Troubles of the last century. The Israeli settlers are similar to the settlers that took root in Ireland and, through their privileged position as the oppressors, they’ve made the Palestinians not even second-class citizens in the land where they’ve been for generations.

‘The Israeli settlers see the Palestinians as animals, they treat them as animals. The videos that have been coming out from the Israeli soldiers have been absolutely despicable, the way they’ve been treating people, and then, after destroying all these lives, they go into the homes of these people and they mock them and steal their food, things like that.

‘Meanwhile, the people who were living in that home are having to live in refugee camps and are starving.

‘I can’t imagine what they’re going through but, as an Irish person, I can empathise deeply with having someone come into your land and then treat you as dirt.

‘We’ve got our tricolour [Irish national flag] here. The 26 counties of Ireland got their independence over 100 years ago. The six remaining counties of Ulster [three of the counties of Ulster being in the Republic – ed] are still living under occupation.

‘I’d love to see a united Ireland in my lifetime and that doesn’t mean kicking out all of the Protestants, it means having a united country in which everyone has the same status and no one sees themselves as better than anyone else, just on the basis of their religion or their ethnicity, and that’s how I see this situation in Palestine.

‘To believe that wanting a free Palestine equates to wanting a Jewish genocide is completely misinterpreting the situation. Anybody who does want that isn’t welcome at our camp.

‘We have made it very clear in our camp guidelines that we are absolutely opposed to anti-semitism. There’s quite a lot of Jewish people who’ve been staying at camp and visiting each day, and we’ve made it abundantly clear that we are anti all forms of genocide.’