Leeds student walkout: voices amplified in solidarity with Palestine amidst growing humanitarian crisis
Yesterday (Wednesday 7th February), the Leeds student walk out in solidarity with Palestine took place in front of the Parkinson building.
According to organisers, approximately 200 individuals attended the protest and march organised by the Leeds Socialist Worker Student Society in collaboration with other societies from University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University. The protest joined a national walkout calling on institutions to demand an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. They called on the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University to end their partnerships with Israeli universities and the British arms-maker BAE Systems. They also called for student unions in Leeds to stand with Palestine.
The protest started outside the University of Leeds Parkinson building, with pro-Palestinian chants like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Ceasefire now.” With placards, banners and flags, the protesters started their march down Woodhouse Lane, in front of the Old Broadcasting House where participants made several speeches.
Among the participating unions were the Leeds City branch of RMT, Leeds University Amnesty International, Leeds City College, Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group, Leeds Beckett Palestine Society and several other societies from the universities. The organisers claim that this has been the biggest turnout for a walkout since the start of the protests in October. The march was followed by a convoy of taxis, some of them with Palestinian flags, showing their support and solidarity.
The speakers talked about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is worsening according to various news agencies. The UN estimates that since the start of the war, 100,000 people in Gaza have been killed, injured or are missing. Al Jazeera estimates the death toll to be over 27,000.
Recently, nearly a dozen Western countries announced they will stop providing aid to Gaza through donations to UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), which is one of the main ways Palestinians receive aid. The funding cuts come after Israeli officials accused several UNRWA employees of being involved in the October 7th attack. The UNRWA’s commissioner general said: “it would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.”. He also announced: “I urge countries who have suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response. The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability”.
Issy Beauvoisin, a member of the Socialist Worker Student Society, called on students in Leeds to take part in weekly student walkouts. “Boycotting is really important and a really effective way to get to the crux of the issue and supporting things like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which organise the Saturday demos.” The Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been organising protests every Saturday since the beginning of October in the Leeds City Centre. Beauvoisin said: “I’d love for our universities to become more involved, especially our student unions.We’re really trying to ask them to become a little more sympathetic to the issue of Palestine and support us more and allow us to do more activism on campus.”
The protesters also flew Yemen’s flag, in solidarity with the bombings taking place there right now. Since mid-November, Houthi rebels have been attacking ships and blocking the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestine. According to CNN, the Suez Canal has great importance in global trade, with 12% of global trade passing through it yearly. When a ship got stuck and blocked the canal for almost a week in 2021, it caused interruptions in trade worth “as much as $10 billion in cargo each day.”
Since the October 7th attacks, many world leaders have been accused by the media of mishandling the situation. As protests continue around the world, it is up to these leaders to decide the next moves in this conflict.
In a previous statement on the Israel-Palestine conflict, a spokesperson for the University of Leeds said “we are writing to express our continued support for all in our community who are affected by the terrible conflict in Israel and Gaza and its devastating impact on civilians in the region.”. They also said they are committed to free speech and the right to demonstrate.