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Gaza protests: Police attacks show stewarding vital
THOUGH THE Israeli army has stopped its bombardment of Gaza, protests have continued because of the blockade. Students in Britain's universities have held sit-ins against their universities' links with the Israeli state. Big demonstrations have taken place against the BBC's refusal to show the Gaza appeal. Socialist Party and Socialist Student members have taken part in many of these.
One thing infuriating protesters is the extremely heavy-handed police response. We are protesting against war crimes and yet we are the ones being treated like criminals. Not only that, but we are portrayed as violent in the press, probably a deliberate ploy to undermine support for the protests and put people off taking part.
On 29 January, for example, an emergency demo was called because Geva Rapp, a retired Israeli colonel, was due to speak in London. 100 people gathered to protest peacefully. It was a success though the meeting was cancelled.
But then police decided to clear the street by force. They pushed and shoved us along the pavement, pressing many of us into railings. When some tried to get out of the way, they were pushed back in. A woman behind me, who looked in her 60s, was crushed and screaming.
Some of the police punched protesters - one man in front of me tried to get out of the crush and was pushed back in and punched - one punch aimed at him hit me instead. We were then held in a cordon for around 20 minutes and not allowed to leave. We asked one copper why they were hitting women and he said: "Don't come here if you don't want to be assaulted by the police".
So, the police turned a peaceful, good-natured and successful protest into a ruck and protesters were presented in the press as thugs.
This shows the importance of protests on some issues, where we can anticipate this type of police response, being well-prepared and stewarded. No one should be put off coming on protests. Protest organisers need to be able to reassure people who are angry and want to demonstrate that they take their safety seriously.
BEFORE THE occupation at Nottingham University, Socialist Students and others had already planned out how to raise awareness on Gaza; university lecturers had agreed to come and give lectures in the occupied space the following day. Then on 31 January a Professor in charge of 'student experience' and another university official entered the occupied room and gave us an ultimatum to leave in two minutes or be removed.
We refused to leave, sitting down with arms linked. Then security guards entered and began to forcibly remove us. A number of us received injuries. Recording equipment was confiscated and we were only allowed to return and collect our possessions if we handed over our student ID cards for identification.
As a letter of solidarity from a lecturer said: "A bunch of students were peacefully sitting in a lecture theatre for a couple of days, not making any noise or mess, not disrupting any lectures, watching political films, inviting speakers and raising awareness. Where was the problem? Where was the security risk? Who was threatened or distressed by this to the extent that these students had to be removed forcefully from the premises?"
Nottingham socialist student
LAST WEEK Cambridge University students staged a six-day occupation of the Law Faculty. Students formulated demands including condemnation from the university of Israel's actions in the Palestinian Territories, giving material and academic aid to rebuild shattered schools and universities in Gaza and providing scholarships for Palestinian students.
We quickly drew in a new layer of students who feel passionately about injustices in Palestine and the week was filled with political talks where socialist ideas were well received.
The university's bureaucracy was shaken but refused to engage in genuine negotiations, claiming that our demands were illegal. They started ID checks for students and threatened us with a court injunction, regarding us as trespassers in our own university.
We succeeded, though, in radicalising many students who had never been active before. Polls showed that most students supported some of our demands, despite attempts to paint us as an unrepresentative minority. More people voted in these polls than in the last student union elections!