Students at St Andrews University were in the headlines last week for occupying their College Halls in support of the Gaza Palestinians and in particular against the University’s links with Israeli defence contractors. Last Wednesday as their week long occupation drew to a close they asked me to come up and address them. Many of the 200 or so student protesters had helped organise my election campaign to become Rector of the University last October. These are my remarks to them:
I am sure Kevin Dunion [the successful Rector candidate] is delighted you have taken this action and demonstrated the strength of feeling on campus. [ Kevin Dunion was, unbeknown to me, sitting in the meeting as I spoke! Much amusement this remark made.]
I wish to congratulate you all on behalf of the people of Scotland and on behalf of the majority of the peoples of the world who like you share the view that another terrible injustice has befallen the people of Gaza in recent weeks. You have done both them and yourselves immense credit by the principled and dignified way you have conducted your protest.
You are a credit to the people who have gone before you at this learned institution and the spirit of learning which this place exists to promote. You have learned that it is right to stand up to tyranny and abuse. It is right to resist injustice. It is right to rebel against exploitation and misery. Read Shelley, read Oscar Wilde, read Malcolm X and you will know you are right one thousand times over in your actions this week.
In my experience over 30 years as an active participant in the international class struggle your actions do affect change, you give huge encouragement to the Palestinian people by this action. News of your protest will have reached out across the globe. You have given great encouragement to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who also support the Palestinian cause.
Furthermore your action will have severely irked those who wish you hadn’t done it; the UK Government, the US Government and of course the warmongering Israeli propaganda machine.
They would have rather you hadn’t had this occupation. They would rather you had stayed in the bar drinking and 'minded your own business' or stayed in your halls smoking a joint and getting stoned paying no mind to these 'international affairs'. In truth of course they would have far rather you were protesting on their side, in favour of BAe’s links to the Israeli military or in favour of the injustices meted out to the people of Gaza and the West Bank.
I see the Palestinians in 2009 as the black South Africans of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. They are facing the barrel of a gun and facing overwhelming military intimidation when they seek their basic democratic and human rights.
The struggle for justice for the Palestinians today is every bit as important as the anti Apartheid campaign of the 1960's -80's. The treatment of Palestinians is no less brutal that that meted out to the black majority in South Africa. The injustice is likewise rife, the military odds stacked against them virtually insurmountable. Yet the international support is as it was for Nelson Mandela and the ANC. And lets not forget that despite overwhelming odds they won.
And so will the Palestinians. Your occupation this week has played its small part in bringing the day the Palestinians achieve these rights that bit closer.
I salute you, you should be proud of yourselves and each other. Lets walk out of here together, united and proud. Our heads held high. Thank you.’