“Give students an education in politics and expect them not to use it?”: Student action in support of Palestine around the world

June 11, 2024
young person in all black sitting on a windowsill holds irish flag and palestinian flag

A student waves flags from the windows of Trinity College Dublin. Image: Fionn Bowes-Fitzpatrick, University Times.

“The Columbia core curriculum quite literally has Edward Said on it. I just don’t understand how a university’s administration can prescribe literature on radical action and assume that students will read it and pass it by,” my friend said in a recent discussion of student encampments.

 This remark has been accompanied by Tweets and memes surrounding student protests, all pointing at one recent and important observation: while academia and history around protest culture has argued that radical protest work, these same institutions either support the restriction of, or they themselves are restricting a surge of student activism in the name of the Free Palestine movement. 

Protest for Palestinian liberation has experienced a dramatic uptick over the past 7 months and continuously in 2024, with millions of lives on the line as Palestinian civilians are being either killed or pushed towards inhumane conditions and out of their homes towards Rafah or out of Palestine. Although the Israel-Palestine conflict has been a central point of political discussion in policy and academic contexts, the rise of student-led protests in particular has supplemented much of the movement’s recent protest progress. 

With a focus on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction against Israeli-owned or affiliated companies (BDS) cause, student protests for the Palestinian movement have included marches, rallies, and, most recently, the establishment of encampments on university campuses around the world. The first of these student encampments was set up in early April at Columbia University in New York, after which a handful of universities in the United States followed suit. The movement also has considerable traction in Europe, with countries such as Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands  along with many others. The movement has also gained traction within Middle Eastern countries including Egypt and Lebanon, as well as further east in South Korea and Bangladesh. 

Whilst protests for the cause have ensued peacefully, many encampments have suffered from backlash, oftentimes either from the government or the local police. The United States and France have seen police officers retaliating with tear gas and physical force towards local peaceful protesters, and the German police have arrested a handful of protestors outside Humboldt University. At no point has this process been made easy.

Despite protest efforts being pushed to their limits, the feathers that this movement has ruffled have led to the success of a handful of encampment efforts, with at least 7 American universities agreeing to at least part of the encampment’s requests. More locally, Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin’s encampment came to a halt after the university agreed to grant the demands of the encampment’s BDS-oriented objective. Once again, the signal is clear: disruptive protesting once again demonstrates its strength in the quest towards radical action.

However, the movement globally seems to be in agreement: the commitment towards boycotting, divesting, and placing sanctions against Israeli companies must be made effective immediately and in full.

The student-led nature of the movement in 2024 has had some mark the fight for Palestinian liberation as ‘the student movement of the 21st century’. If this is the case, what does its popularity amongst the youth say about the importance of this issue? Just 40 years ago, the anti-apartheid movement’s similar student protest culture went to show that this issue concerned all, and its relevance was not missed by the student voice. The Free Palestine movement says the same. These students know just what they’re saying: a free Palestine is our business too, and their fight is ours. This relentless university spirit is what has guaranteed successes for the movement now and will hopefully contribute further to the first both now and in the future onwards.