Written by Student Rights on 21 February 2012 at 1pm

Students clash over Israeli Apartheid Week event

The news that an event held by the London School of Economics (LSE) Palestine Society to mark the start of Israeli Apartheid Week broke down into disorder yesterday was a sad reminder of the division caused by this conflict on UK campuses. Having set up a stall mimicking an Israeli checkpoint, complete with students playing Israeli soldiers checking ID cards, the Palestine Society were then attacked with water bombs by students allegedly from the LSE’s Israel Society.

The LSE Palestine Society has said in their statement that around “an hour and forty minutes into the stall, four students threw numerous water bombs at the wall which was being held up by several students who were members of the LSESU Palestine Society members. The balloons hit our members, with several of these missiles hitting these students directly in the face, who were as a result incredibly upset by the incident. The missiles which were thrown knocked down one of the walls being held up by members of the society falling on these students. This could have potentially seriously injured society members and passers -by, as they were heavy wooden panels which required holding up by students.

The Israel Society have responded to this, stating that their students were intimidated by the protest and that “provocative acts instigated by the Palestine Society today only serve to fuel tensions on campus. Dragging women kicking and screaming along the floor, as the Palestine Society simulated, is not an accurate description of reality; rather it is a disgusting simplification of a complex situation for both sides. Events such as these only leave Jewish and Israeli students feeling targeted and intimidated on campus. Campus should be a safe space for all students and thus no physical force of any kind should [...] be tolerated.

As well as this, the President of the Jewish Society Jay Stoll, who was present when the incident took place, has made it clear this was not an official protest, saying on Twitter that “no-one sanctioned this” and that “everything about today was wrong”.

Whilst it is true that the event exaggerated the nature of an Israeli checkpoint, for example one individual who took part writing that they “prevented many from passing through, allowed very few and shot many more”, this is the nature of political campaigning. To respond in the way in which members of the Israel Society allegedly did simply causes more tension, and can lead to the violence seen yesterday. This may have been a counter-demonstration designed to highlight the attacks from Palestinian terrorists on Israeli checkpoints, but there are less provocative ways to do this, one student suggesting t-shirts reading “If I were a suicide bomber, you’d be dead by now” instead.

This does not however excuse members of the Palestine Society attacking the students involved though. In their statement they have said that “as soon as the incident was over Palestine Society members returned to re-enacting the checkpoint” which is not quite true.

The violent manner in which a number of their members allegedly responded can be seen in this video, as can the belligerent reaction of Palestine Society students including Sherelle Davids, the Student Union Anti-Racism officer who was part of the protest.

This highlights the fact that when events like this happen simply blaming one side is simplistic, and this incident, along with the contradictory statements from both societies, show that both sides need to accept some responsibility for what happened. The LSE Students’ Union has released a statement which says that “the Students’ Union believes in the right to peaceful protest but condemns the violence. The safety and welfare of students is of the utmost importance” yet this ignores the fact that some students did find this protest deeply offensive.  

Provocative protests such as this engender division and foster conflict between students, something seen at Brunel University earlier this month, and the importance of dialogue between those who organise them is vital. In the wake of this incident, and the recriminations that have followed, this seems like something that is unlikely to happen as opinion on Houghton Street becomes more and more polarised