A grey and chilly morning in London. Exam classes had just begun. But over 2,000 miles away, the Gaza Massacre of the previous year had just ended in a unilateral ceasefire. The result? 4,000 homes destroyed, over 1,300 Palestinian deaths and an impact that was to be long lasting. According the UNHCR, 75% of houses were never rebuilt.
It was a similar January morning when many King’s students were making their way to lectures, but for some, the journey was to the Nash Lecture Theatre, armed with banners, placards and slogans. This 40-strong group grew to 80, and soon had created an online petition with 500 signatures.
The tipping point was King’s College London’s decision to award Israeli President Shimon Peres with an Honorary Doctorate for his “peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East”. This was a month before the onslaught started.
The response was an overwhelming silence from the administration – the principal at that time chose to remain silent as the butchering continued.
Then King’s students declared an occupation – among other demands, including building education links to the UK for Palestinian students as well as divesting from arms companies – asking King’s College London to revoke Peres’ doctorate. There were regular rallies and protests outside the Strand and at the principal’s office. Through these actions, King’s stood in solidarity alongside LSE, SOAS and University of Essex.
The end result was the creation of KCL Action Palestine, a group that vowed “[to] continue to fight for the end of the siege of Gaza and a Free Palestine on campus and raise awareness about the need to keep building the movement.” A total of £8,000 was raised to support educational institutions in Gaza as well as to provide scholarships for Palestinian students.
However, it appeared that the fight had only just begun. King’s refused vociferously to remove Peres’ honorary degree in spite of his alleged war crimes and easily questionable track record. To this day, KCL has a working relationship with the Herzilya Institute in Israel; but when one looks for a relationship with Palestinian universities, it cannot be found.
In 2010, King’s even had to terminate an academic partnership with Israeli cosmetics company Ahaya following significant student pressure. Furthermore, there was never a move to create an investment policy that would avoid arms companies until the creation of the Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee (SRIRC) – thanks to renewed student pressure in 2015.
KCL Action Palestine continues its campaign to end King’s complicity with apartheid. The organisation argues for educational bridges to be built between King’s and Palestinian universities, as Goldsmiths and SOAS had done successfully. Until change becomes present, we will continue to demand fully-funded scholarships for students from Gaza, and achieve full divestment from arms companies.
For peace, justice and equality.
This article originally appeared in the blog Permission to Narrate.