A petition for the University to endorse an immediate ceasefire in Gaza has garnered over 1,900 signatures from Oxford students, faculty, and alumni.
Representatives from Rhodes Scholars for Palestine and Oxford Palestinian Society released the petition titled “ACT AGAINST GENOCIDE” on 26 October. The demands include calls for the Vice-Chancellor “to speak and act against the ongoing genocide enacted by Israel against the Palestinian people” and for the University to “issue a strong and clear call urging the UK government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to immediately adopt and endorse a policy of ceasefire in Gaza.”
The petition went on to cite a Human Rights Watch report on Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza and Lebanon. The petition condemned these tactics, saying “both the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs have stated that targeting civilians in these ways constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”
Of particular concern to those who wrote the petition was the role Oxford University plays in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The petition stated: “Oxford is not just silent in the face of Israel’s genocidal military campaign against Gaza; it is actively complicit and implicated in it: A Freedom of Information Request sent by AOAV (Action On Armed Violence) found that Oxford is in the top 5 universities in the UK to accept arms funding (2013-21) from companies found by Amnesty International to fail to ‘demonstrate adequate human rights due diligence.’”
Joumana Talhouk, a Lebanese DPhil candidate in International Development, was among the students who met with the Vice-Chancellor last week to discuss the petition. Talhouk told Cherwell that “the Vice-Chancellor justified the University’s silence in the meeting by stating that the University is a non-political organisation.”
Talhouk continued: “The Vice-Chancellor said the University’s unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was ‘different’ given the UK’s sanctions against Russia. This response begs the question of whether the University of Oxford merely mirrors the UK government’s political position, thereby jeopardising its independence, self-governance, and integrity as a leading academic institution.”
According to the drafters of the petition, the Vice-Chancellor issued a promise after the meeting to respond to the demands by 3 November. They report not having yet received any response.
When asked to comment on the petition, the University told Cherwell the following: “The Vice-Chancellor (VC) has been meeting with representatives of all the student groups affected by the terrible crisis situation in the Middle East. She will continue to do so going forwards. She is very grateful for the time the students have spent with her.
“The University has been clear in all its communications about its recognition of the desperate and tragic humanitarian crisis and loss of life, as well as the need for a peaceful solution for the peoples of Israel and Palestine. The focus of the collegiate university has been to ensure the community within Oxford remains together, has access to welfare support and other needs during this period, and that there is zero tolerance for any form of Islamophobia or antisemitism within our university.
“The VC and student representatives of the petition discussed a range of issues and the explanation on various points mentioned was more detailed than that given here, notably on Ukraine. The petition deadline for response was one given by the students and the VC did not agree to respond by a specific date, as she has to discuss all such issues very broadly, as she explained to the students. She will respond directly to those students presently.”
The call for a ceasefire comes at a time when the death count since 7 October has surpassed 10,000 Gazans, according to the Gazan Health Ministry, and 1,400 Israelis, according to senior Israeli officials. According to the Ramallah-based health ministry, over 150 Palestinians have also been killed in the West Bank (including annexed East Jerusalem).