Response to the Gazan Crisis : What has UCDSU done so far?

Image Credit: Ilaria Riccio

Since the Gazan crisis began earlier this semester, the UCD Students’ Union, a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement since 2018 has been on the frontlines of Palestinian solidarity in UCD, alongside the UCD division of BDS, Academics for Palestine, and the collective group UCD Justice for Palestine.

Since the Gazan crisis began, the UCD Students’ Union, a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement since 2018 has been on the frontlines of Palestinian solidarity in UCD, alongside the UCD division of BDS, Academics for Palestine, and the collective group UCD Justice for Palestine. 

The cover story of the University Observer’s third issue already discussed how UCDSU has been on the frontline in ensuring that the college takes a pro-Palestine stance, notably in a demonstration held by the lake in front of O’Reilly Hall on Tuesday, 14th November. Since then, two more demonstrations and the holding of a Palestine Solidarity Week have attested to the Union’s support for Palestine and its attempts to influence the University’s governing authority. Specifically, they have asked UCD to share its official positioning on the crisis and explicitly demanded a ceasefire. 

The Palestine Solidarity Week involved a series of panel discussions and events aimed at promoting the Palestinian cause amongst UCD students. Recurrent guests at these events included Professor and member of Academics for Palestine Kieran Allen, as well as Human Rights Activist Ibrahim Halawa.

The Second Palestinian Solidarity Protest - Wednesday 22nd November

A second pro-Palestine demonstration took place by the lake in front of O’Reilly Hall on Wednesday, 22nd November. The event was attended by a noticeably smaller cohort of UCD students and staff than the first one and had a slightly stronger garda presence, possibly as a consequence of the escalation of the L&H debate on 16th November. 

The demonstration began with UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada reading President Orla Feely’s response to their demand for an official statement over UCD’s stance on the ongoing escalation in Gaza. The statement that had been dubbed “lacklustre” by Ní Riada during the UCDSU student council on Monday 20th, was “still missing a call for a ceasefire.” She continued: “A ceasefire has nothing to do with academic neutrality.” In her response, President Orla Feely directed the Students’ Union to the Kalven Report as a framework for her approach. The document written in 1967 for The University of Chicago notably states: “The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.”

The second speaker was Dr Anne Mulhall, one of the signatories of the letter that appeared in the Irish Times two weeks ago, underwritten by Academics with Palestine calling for an immediate academic boycott of Israeli universities. In her address, she expressed her discontent with President Feely’s statement and insisted that “this isn’t a matter of policy or taking sides” and demanded that the precedence be to “listen to the voice of conscience.”

The third speaker, Sahar Kahlul, a Palestinian refugee and new student at UCD, gave the crowd a harrowing account of the reality of living under the tyranny of the Israeli Defense Forces. She notably recounts how her “once beautiful coastal city is now one [she] cannot return to.” She continues to say: “Palestinians are refugees in their own country. The Israeli government is trying to erase us with all its might. We are not numbers, we are people, and we have dreams. Please don’t stop protesting and educating people, your words matter.”

A spokesperson for Irish Marxists later addressed the crowd and questioned Ireland’s squandering of its legacy of support for Palestine: “If the people of Ireland have shown overwhelming support for Palestine, why has the government refused to expel the Israeli ambassador and refer Israel to the International Criminal Court?” He disparaged the growing trend of “Western government bending their knees to imperialist agendas” and pointed out how Orla Feely’s statement follows this trend.

The final address was delivered by Kieran Allen, Associate Professor at the UCD School of Sociology and member of Academics for Palestine. He addressed the crowd and reminded those present that there were efforts to derail the conversation. Notably, he brought attention to the numerous deaths of journalists reporting on the conflict and the conflation of Palestinian support with Antisemitism. Finally, he formally criticised President Orla Feely’s response and UCD’s double standard in its treatment of the Gazan crisis as opposed to the Ukrainian invasion by Russia: “Why can [UCD] speak up for Ukraine but can’t speak up for Palestine? All institutions in the EU and US have stood up for Ukraine but not for Palestine.”

On the day of this protest, the news of an Israel-Hamas four-day truce was announced and discussions on sanctions against Israel and the removal of American forces from Shannon Airport were underway in the Dáil, there is a spark of hope in this crisis. However, groups across UCD, including UCDSU, Academics for Palestine, UCD_BDS, and UCD Justice for Palestine have committed to continuing their mobilisation for the foreseeable future. A petition has been launched to call on President Orla Feely to condemn the actions of the state of Israel and demand a ceasefire. 

UCDSU joins the International Day of Solidarity with Palestine

A week after President Orla Feely’s “lacklustre” statement on the ongoing war in Gaza, and the international day of Palestinian solidarity, UCDSU organised their most disruptive solidarity protest. The gathering-turned-sit-in saw approximately fifty people walk from the Main Lake to the N11 at 1 pm. 

“UCD you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide!”, the congregation of UCDSU sabbatical officers, UCD staff members and students chanted as they made their way through the Belfield campus. As the congregation made its way onto the N11 bypass, Palestinian flags and banners were draped from the bridge. Honking noises followed the action, yet it is unclear whether these were in a show of solidarity or as a counter-protest. After having repeated the action on the other side of the bridge, demonstrators sat down on the bridge, holding up the traffic. Gardaì were already at the scene when the demonstration started, and they promptly diverted the incoming traffic both in and out of Belfield. 

This specific action has its desired, disruptive effects: a S6 bus directed to Blackrock Station was stopped, and several passengers expressed their disapproval of the disruption. Specifically, a woman promptly stepped out of the vehicle and approached the demonstrators to ask them to leave rather rudely. She tore a pro-Palestine banner in the process, apostrophising “F**k off” to the demonstrators who refused to stand up and clear the way. The same woman was later heard making comparisons between this peaceful demonstration and the riots that happened in the Parnell Square area on Thursday, 23rd November. She continued her outburst by decrying a lack of interest in “the people of Ireland”, and questioned why [she] “should care about Palestinians when her main concern is to go see [her] family”. She later approached a Garda officer, and accused them of “letting this happen.” 

Speaking to The University Observer, Campaigns Officer Miranda Bauer said “We don’t think Professor Orla Feely’s response was appropriate to the present climate, so we needed to be disruptive as our voices need to be heard louder”. President Nì Riada echoed this sentiment: “It was important for us to come out and do this here. All of the protests in town are ultimately avoidable if you’re around this area. By being out in the public and putting banners over the bridge we are showing that Palestinian solidarity is not just reserved for a small minority”. She concluded: “As universities, we are supposed to be leading the way and to be change-makers”. 

The UCDSU Student’s Union will continue to be present at Palestinian Solidarity rallies put on in Dublin town.