Durham University pauses dialogue with pro-Palestinian encampment over conduct in meetings

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Durham University has said that it will not meet with the pro-Palestinian encampment, run by Durham Students for Palestine, until it is assured that students will behave “respectfully” in meetings, saying students disrupted and filmed a meeting without consent.

This meeting and decision was held before Durham University curtailed a Durham Union Society debate on Palestinian leadership, over protests that meant entrances to the debate chamber were blockaded. Palatinate has reported on this protest here.

Durham University and Durham Students for Palestine have met four times now, discussing the University’s approach to the encampment’s demands. The encampment told Palatinate they “appreciate [the University’s] willingness to engage in dialogue”, but that they feel “frustrated and angry” over their demands not being met. Durham University have called these discussions “constructive.”

The University has been engaged with negotiations with the encampment since its first week, and has been thorough in publishing the progress of the meetings. Most recently on the 7th June, the University has committed to “exploring the sharing of a list of investments made via third-party fund managers”, and has invited students from the encampment to engage with submitting a proposal to the Finance Committee, sponsored by the President of Durham Students’ Union.

When the University and encampment next met on 4th June, the University responded to students asking about “the promotion of careers opportunities to students related to companies involved in the arms trade.” The University has raised this with senior management and the Head of Careers. Investment continued to be the main focus of these discussions, as well as supporting students.

The encampment so far (Graphic: Elliot Burrin)

On Wednesday 5th June, members of Durham Students for Palestine cut up gowns, college ties, and degree certificates outside of the Palatine Centre following a staff-student walkout.

Then, on 6th June, the encampment met with the University to further discuss investment and the University’s outlook on the war. 

“We do not and will not take up a formal University position on political matters outside our core mission of education and research, unless we are directed to do so by the UK Government,” the University said, although it continued to express its “heartfelt hope” that “a way will be found to end the violence, a peaceful resolution and the safe return of the remaining hostages.”

The University “suspended” the meeting due to “disruptive demonstrations outside the meeting and photography and filming by those protestors of the meeting without prior consent.”

The encampment clarified that their protestors were “livestreaming the protest on Instagram”, not the meeting. 

The University is “committed to ongoing dialogue with students at the camp regarding their priorities, where that dialogue is respectful and constructive”

Durham University

However, Durham Students for Palestine said that “students then made the decision to escalate the protest” after they felt that none of their demands had been met. 

“Our negotiations team had expressed that protestors felt ignored and not taken seriously in the meeting before and demanded to leave with at least one demand met, which did not happen,” Durham Students for Palestine told Palatinate.

“The behaviour was disappointing and fell short of what we expect from all members of the University community,” the University said in a statement on the 7th June, “this dialogue cannot resume until we can be assured of respectful behaviours from those concerned.”

After the meeting on Thursday 6th June, Durham Students for Palestine organised a “die-in”, where they laid on the ground outside Elvet Riverside. They did this to make “a visual statement about the severe consequences on inaction.”

The University has said that it is on the 7th June “committed to ongoing dialogue with students at the camp regarding their priorities, where that dialogue is respectful and constructive.”

In a statement on the 9th June, the University said, “the right to lawful protest mut be balanced between the rights of protestors to assert their views, and the rights of others to go about their business safely, unimpeded and free from intimidation, duress and harassment.”

“Now, as ever, it is critical that behaviours and language do not amount to harassment or intimidation.

“Where there is evidence of behaviour which is intimidatory towards our students, staff, and wider community, we will take appropriate action through our established disciplinary procedures.”

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