It really is a shame that the situation had to get to this point. It is a real shame to find myself writing these lines. This university has still a long way to go in terms of freedom of speech.
Apparently, wanting to state our visualisation of a disgraceful reality in an engaging manner goes against the university’s principles. At least, that is what the recent banning of the ‘Mock Checkpoint’ event planned by Friends of Palestine for Israeli Apartheid Week suggests, as well as the talks with university staff that followed this draconian decision. Although many reading this will have already heard about the ban, there is more that’s going on, which I’ll explain.
The checkpoint was supposed to be the main event in the biggest week of support for the Palestinian cause, whereby members of our society and fellow supporters of Palestine would have set up a theatrical performance outside the Forum. Some of us would have taken up the role of Israeli soldiers and others would have been enacting Palestinian civilians. Obviously, no reference to religion or ethnicity was to feature, as we strongly oppose any form of discrimination on such grounds. Our sole purpose is to raise awareness of the oppression of the Palestinian people by the settler-colonial state of Israel and its military forces, who on a daily basis discriminate against Palestinians through violations of human rights and international law, a disgrace characterised by the humiliating nature of the checkpoints restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement within their own territory, which has been increasingly occupied by Israeli forces (and illegal settlements) over recent decades.
The fact that Israeli checkpoints violate human rights, discriminate according to ethnicity and breach international law seems to be of little importance to the university
The university decided to ban this performance, on the grounds of ‘campus mobility’ and ‘safety concerns’, after our very own Students’ Guild approved our risk assessment. Our appeal was rejected with vague arguments, however, the biggest exposure of the university’s lack of rational arguments took place at our meeting on March 6th. For one hour, the Registrar and Provost constantly dodged one simple question, which was repeated over a dozen times to no effect. Our simple question was: “What are the ‘safety concerns’ that you have in mind?”
With an honest answer, we would be able to edit our risk assessment to address these alleged worries. However, we came out of the meeting feeling powerless and with the impression that the university management is a very distant entity to the student and staff body, which is the true engine keeping this academic institution moving.
Part of the problem lies here. The university is becoming more and more of a business, a corporation, and less of what it is supposed to be; a higher education academic institution, devoted to intellectual freedom and engagement. It is worth remembering that under the Education Act, universities ‘have the duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with their beliefs, views, policy or objectives.’
the university’s decision to ban the checkpoint has wider connotations than the checkpoint itself
By banning the checkpoint, the university facilitated the perpetuation of the violation of human rights suffered by the Palestinians, since it is blocking an event that would increase awareness on the situation, an international awareness that is necessary to pressure Israel into ending its illegal occupation of Palestine.
Ironically enough, one of the conditions by which the university reserves the right to ban an event is ‘the content of the event giving cause to believe that this may contain views that are in breach of human rights, equality or any other legislation’, as stated in the Event Approval Panel Referral Process. Well, the fact that Israeli checkpoints violate human rights, discriminate according to ethnicity and breach international law seems to be of little importance to the university, who would rather silence those who are fighting those values than condemn this unacceptable reality and side with the oppressed.
Nevertheless, the university’s decision to ban the checkpoint has wider connotations than the checkpoint itself. What is the future of activism on this campus? Are we in the wake of an era of increased censorship of political opinions and activist devices to transmit these opinions?
As students, we can’t let this happen; university student movements have been too much of an influential force for political change over past decades. Student-led activism must be protected from crackdown, and I am sure that all student societies, regardless of political ideology, can agree on this issue.
For now, we are waiting for the university to come into reason. Hopefully we won’t have reason to feel even more silenced and disenfranchised by their censorship.