The protest camp at Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham. (Credit: Caradoc Gayer)

In May, dozens of student-led, protest camps began popping up on university campuses across the UK. At each one students were demanding that their university management divest their investments from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. University of Nottingham students have set up camp on the university’s Jubilee Campus, settling in for the long haul. We spoke to one of them about their drive to keep protesting beyond the end of their academic year.

On a cloudy May afternoon at the south entrance of Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham (UoN), a dozen tents are sitting behind a giant blue banner that reads ‘disclose’, ‘divest’, ‘support’ and ‘invest’. Several, mostly masked, students walk around, speaking to each other and sorting through crates of toiletries, kitchenware and food.

Next to the nearby entrance of the Advanced Manufacturing Building a placard re-names it the Dr Said Al Zebda Building, honouring a Gaza-born alumnus of the university who was tragically killed by an Israeli airstrike in December 2023.

“We wanted to commemorate someone who had a very positive impact on the university community when he lived here with his wife Ikraam,” says Bella, 21, part of the Nottingham Camp for the Liberation of Palestine who have been here since May 10.

“The university haven’t acknowledged him on their website, although they have for other alumni who have died. Security have also told us that they will take the memorial down without providing a clear time frame, which has been upsetting.”

The encampment at Jubilee Campus was set up on May 10. (Credit: Caradoc Gayer)

This quiet scene at Jubilee Campus is one of 34 pro-Palestinian encampments at universities across the UK, set-up amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

Most of these student-led protest groups are asking the same thing of their place-of-education: that they strip any involvement they have from companies linked to Israeli violence in Gaza and reinvest in aid for the Palestinian people.

Approaching the final stages of her course, Bella has been revising but she and other campers want to stay beyond their coursework deadlines and exams to ensure that their requests are met: that UoN disclose its investments and remove its connections to Rolls-Royce and BAE systems, which have produced military equipment reportedly sold to Israel. The university has since responded to this demand.

“We’re hoping that the university enters into negotiations because we haven’t set out an end date for this,” says Bella.

“We want to make staying here feasible for everyone and we have various ideas of who can. Uni is finishing for undergrads but not for many master’s students, students doing resits, PHD researchers and the University staff supporting us.

“We definitely think it’s important that we keep the encampment going until the university listens and realises that we have reasonable demands.”

The protesters are demanding that the University of Nottingham cancel their investments. (Credit: Caradoc Gayer)

Across the UK, universities have reacted differently to the on-campus protests. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham wrote on May 17 that he would only meet with student campers if they dismantled the encampment itself.

At Oxford University, 16 protesters were controversially arrested on May 23.

On May 15, UoN left letters at the Jubilee encampment which threatened legal action and reportedly £19,500 in legal fees.

“It was disappointing more than anything else,” says Bella. “The fact that the emails that we’d sent to the university weren’t replied to but we were served legally binding documents.

“It also happened during a vigil for the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, which showed a lack of sensitivity to students directly affected by the conflict. I wouldn’t however say that it was surprising.”

Bella emphasises that, for her, UoN’s apparent lack of sympathy for the encampment’s values has been a big emotional challenge to deal with.

She and her fellow campers have responded to this disconnection from University management by becoming more connected to the university community.

They are holding events like meditation classes, Arabic and embroidery lessons, BBQs, talks on ‘revolution’, music and poetry evenings.

‘We all know what we’re here for and that what we’re doing is very necessary’

“We wanted to create an environment where people could come and learn, especially with the lack of information out there about the Palestinian people,” she says.

“We wanted to show that we are an open and inclusive environment where everyone, staff or student, is able to join and ask questions. The schedule also hopefully allows people to pop in during exam revision, depending on their ability to do so.”

For Bella the positives of staying at the encampment outweigh the mental and logistical challenges. Despite the disruption that the protest has caused to her experience at university, she and the other campers are confident that they’re doing it for the greater good.

“The practicalities of staying will be challenging in context of our privileged lifestyles here in the UK, but it will be nothing in comparison to what the Palestinian people are dealing with right now.

“That’s one of our main principles. Things like expiring housing contracts will naturally be hard to deal with, but I know that it wasn’t a particularly difficult decision for me or my fellow campers to stay.

“We all know what we’re here for and that what we’re doing is very necessary.”

The Nottingham Camp for the Liberation of Palestine are asking for support via the signing of an open letter to the University.

The University of Nottingham’s latest statement on the protest is here.