Activism for Palestine stands out: a place to find a special community - International Journalism (2024)

“For me this is the most striking example of an intentional community that I’ve ever been part of,” Foxglove, student organiser of the SOAS Liberated Zone for Gaza and master’s student at SOAS.

All around London and the rest of the world, encampments are popping up on university campuses. According to London Student Action for Palestine there is currently 36 active university encampments across Britain. They are at campuses of all sizes. From Oxford to Birmingham. Participating in encampments and other activism for Palestine, can be a way for students to make the unbearable bearable.

On May 18th, 2024 more than 250 thousand people gathered on the streets of London to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Nakba. Following the people coming out of the tube wearing Palestinian Keffiyeh scarves, hearing the chants and drums from the protest in the distance. Foxglove has been part of the encampment since day one. He has previously been part of other activism for Palestine but has found the community in the encampment different than any other he’s been part of:

The students

The students are not a new part of human rights movements:

“In the case of South Africa, in the case of Vietnam, and now, of course, we’re seeing it in the case of Palestine. So, we hope that they play a similar role in these areas as well,” says Ismail Patel, Founder and chairman of the UK based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA). Implying of course that the students made a difference in the above-mentioned movements, he continues:

“Historically, they have played a pivotal role in trying to ensure democratic rights, international law and that justice is upheld.”

Hazem Jamjoum is a doctoral candidate in modern history of the Middle East. He has taught, edited, and translated in the fields of international relations and human rights and been active in the solidarity movement for Palestine for 25 years. He is a child of Palestinian parents and describes himself as a Palestinian refugee. He describes the communities he has seen in activism for Palestine as “Some of the most profound kinds of community because it’s based on trust, empathy, sensitivity, care, responsibility and decentring your ego.”

Activism for Palestine stands out

According to both Nico, Hazem, Foxglove and Ismail the activism for Palestine stand out from other activisms.

“The community around Palestine solidarity is different from any other kind of community around the world,” says Nice, an alumnus participating in the SOAS Liberated zone for Gaza.

Ismail Patel explains why he think it’s different: “I think that the Palestinian activism, is different because they transcend the geographical order of where the problem is. At the moment the crisis is in Palestine, Gaza, but why it’s being carried out and how it’s being carried out has an impact globally, because first of all international law is not respected, and everybody around the world has an impact on that. The fact that our country, Britain particularly, is supporting the occupying Israel, means they’re in violation, or potential violation, of international law and supporting the oppressor.

And of course, the very idea that Israel is one of the last direct colonial states that is in operation globally, that means that it has an anti-colonialist element to it as well. And recently Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also categorized that Israel may be practicing apartheid.

So, you have all these issues that don’t just impact the Palestinians, but they transcend globally. It’s about human rights, it’s about justice, it’s about equality, it’s about being decolonial, and respect for international law. And that is why the Palestinian issue has so much resonance around the world.”

Hazem Jamjoum describe this same concept of great amounts of internationalism in the genocide on Gaza, but adds another descriptive word to it:

“One thing that marks Palestine activism is a high level of intersectionality. It’s increasingly becoming a hallmark of all struggles, especially in the last eight months.

People finally recognizing that many of our social and political and economic struggles are connected. From gender and sexuality to Sudan or Haiti or class or ableism.

Both people who get politicized and radicalized around issues see the very direct interconnections between oppressive structures and also see the strategic importance of building alliances and working across movements. And building it as a kind of more coherent movement for human liberation.”

As all of these issues intersect in this conflict, all kinds of different people find themselves involved in this movement for freedom for all:

“Right now, we’re seeing people from all walks of society getting involved. The nature of Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in the last eight months has really sensitized. And so, whether you are sensitive to things concerning childhood, motherhood, healthcare workers, journalists or freedom of expression, or the kind of really profound horror of what the Israeli military’s been perpetrating against Palestinians in Gaza is the kind of thing that I think people also just connect with on a fundamentally human level. Or at least they should. So, from children to elderly, as well as people from different political believes, everyone gets involved” says Hazem.

People are trying to find ways to cope with this so-called horror and simply inhumane behaviour of Israel. And as people engage in political action, they might find an unexpected place of community and strong connection such as it is the case in the SOAS Liberated Zone for Gaza.

Community in the encampment

The SOAS liberated zone for Gaza consist of thirty tents. Every day the tents house thirty to forty people. The campers are mainly students, but some alumni and people in the surrounding community has also found a place for community here:

When Foxglove see himself needing to cross the line from the encampment and out in the surrounding society, he feels as though he is “stepping through a portal”. Because when you are in a sort of bubble as an encampment might feel like, or just in a bubble of learning about how basic human rights are being taken away from the people in Gaza, it can be intense, but it might also be the place you find strong social bonds. That is what Hamez describes:

“Between the kind of requirements for trust building and the nature of the kind of traumatic experiences that you’re dealing with. As well as the massive responsibility to navigate not speaking for people but conveying their voices, and the kind of sensitivity and empathy required to not make this about yourself. That creates a very high-level threshold for what kind of social bonds you create with the people you do this work with.”

What drives the people

“Anger, indignation, guilt, rumination, victim compensation, and perpetrator punishment are considered primary responses associated with justice sensitivity,” according to journal article “Responses Toward Injustice Shaped by Justice Sensitivity – Evidence From Germany.”

According to Foxglove, many feelings are involved for everyone in the encampment as well:

“I think, when you are in a position where you have the thought ‘that could have been me’ which fundamentally should be a thought that any human being feels just on a human level,” Hazem Jamjoum

Everyone is looking for their community, and it seems that more and more young people and students are finding it in activism. They are changing activism! Not only are 70% of young people (according to Edelman), and here among students, involved in social or political causes. But to find out what is really going on, on the streets, you have to follow the Palestine movement on social media, and more specifically you’ve to follow Instagram accounts such as Friends of Al-Aqsa and Hazem. To know what is happening inside the camp you have to be part of the Signal group chat. So, the students and the young people have access to something the students of the anti-Vietnam-War movement could have never imagined. The word for justice is spreading just as fast, if not faster than the news.

Does it work?

We have yet to see if this student movement will succeed in their cause as their predecessors from previously mentioned movements for South Africa and Vietnam. One small victory within the encampments’ demands of the university at SOAS has however come through:

“SOAS has addressed a single demand out of our seven demands, which is to expand scholarships for Palestinian people. They have expanded them slightly,” tells Nico from the SOAS Liberated Zone for Palestine.

Enlarge

Map of the Nakba protest route. The top right blue dot represents the meeting point of the students. They then walked to the next blue pint on the left to join in with the rest of the protesters. They all walked along the route and ended up at Downing street, the last blue dot in the bottom of the map.

Note: since May 18th countless protests, campaigns and actions for Palestine has been launched and executed. New encampments have been erected across England and the rest of the world, BDS (from FOA, making campaigns to implement change) has won a campaign and Pret A Manger is no longer opening stores in Israel, emergency rallies for Rafa has been executed, BDS has defeated an anti-boycott bill was meant to make an attack on local facilities’’ rights to spend their money ethically without supporting Israel. The list of things that has happened and are still happening is next to endless. This is all important work in order to stop the genocide on Gaza.

Activism for Palestine stands out: a place to find a special community - International Journalism (2024)
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