Shimon Peres death reminds us why KCL Action Palestine came into existence, and the obscenity of King’s decision not to revoke his Honorary Doctorate.

Photo: former Israeli president Shimon Peres poses with a gun next to Israeli military personnel.
Photo: former Israeli president Shimon Peres poses with a gun next to Israeli military personnel.

Post-January exam classes had just started and mornings were grey and chilly in London. The 2008 Gaza massacre had ended in a unilateral ceasefire on the 18th of January 2009. The toll was 4,000 homes destroyed, over 1,300 Palestinian deaths and many more thousands injured. This destruction was to last, as it is common with every Gaza onslaught. According to the UNCHR 75% of the houses were never rebuilt.

It was the morning of the 20th of that same month as students made their way to lectures that a group of 40-strong students stormed the Nash lecture theatre with banners, placards, and slogans. By the afternoon they had grown to 80 students with an online petition of support with 500 signatures. This was the tipping point. King’s College London had awarded Shimon Peres with an Honorary Doctorate for his “peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East” a month before the onslaught started. At the same time, the principal of the time decided to stay silent as people were being butchered and put under the rubble.

Students declared an occupation to demand King’s College London revoke the honorary doctorate it awarded to Shimon Peres alongside demands that included building links with Palestinian universities, providing scholarships for Palestinians to study in the UK, and divesting from arms companies. In doing so, they joined LSE, SOAS and Essex universities in their movement of solidarity with Palestine. Regular rallies and protests outside the Strand and at the principal’s office, news reporters, panels with academics from King’s and other universities, and constant debate characterised the occupation.

The occupation ended with students declaring victory and the creation of KCL Action Palestine. Its’ proclaimed aim: “[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.” Eight thousand pounds were raised to support educational institutions in Gaza, computers and medical equipment were donated do the Islamic University of Gaza, and scholarships for Palestinian students were established.

But not all the demands were met. King’s was vociferous about not revoking Shimon’s honorary degree. Being unable to uphold the honours it initially paid to him when the honorary doctorate was awarded, King’s decided to argue that such revocation “would have a very negative impact on the College’s ability to be a centre of expertise on Middle East affairs including the peace process itself.” Instead, it opted to write to him directly about the “concerns noted regarding the conflict”. This reaction falls well within the mainstream Western narrative, where famous Zionist doves are praised as “men of peace” while Palestinians and their many other victims have to bear seeing these men pass without ever seeing accountability for their committed crimes. Failing to revoke his degree was not a way for KCL to retain its expert status, but an obscene political stance.[1]

Then there are other promises or half promises King’s never delivered. Up to this date there is no link with Palestinian universities, yet KCL has a working relationship with the Herzilya institute in Israel, it almost secured a year abroad with the Hebrew university, and in 2010 it had to end an academic partnership with the Israeli cosmetics company Ahava after 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 thanks to renewed student pressure from KCLAP and Fossil Free KCL in 2015.

It is in this context that KCL Action Palestine continues its work and campaign to end our institution’s complicity with apartheid. We continue to demand the building of educational bridges between King’s and Palestinian universities, based on the success of these in institutions like Goldsmiths University and SOAS and the values that our own university proclaims. We continue to demand fully-funded scholarships specifically for students from Gaza. And this year we aim to start the campaign to achieve full divestment from arms companies.

2009-occup
Occupying students at Nash Lecture theater receive a lecture from Mike Cushman (LSE)

For Peace, Justice and equality,
guest blogger: Alberto Torres (former president of KCLAP)

 

 

[1] Shimon Peres praise as a man of peace comes from his role in the drafting and signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. This comes from a misunderstanding of what the Oslo accords were designed to achieve – the further entrenchment of the occupation and theft of land under the false guise of a state in the making. More striking however, is the standing of this praise in spite of his shelling of Lebanon which led to the Qana massacre two years later, his reputation as the architect of Israel’s secret nuclear Arsenal, and his role as global ambassador during Israel’s repeated Gaza massacres in 2008, 2012, and 2014[1].

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