The Oxford Uni student encampment setup outside of the Pitt Rivers Museum on 13 May. Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys
The Oxford Uni student encampment setup outside of the Pitt Rivers Museum on 13 May. Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

In Conversation with a Pro-Palestine Encampment Protestor at Pitt Rivers

On Sunday The Oxford Student was given the opportunity to reflect on the preceding week with a representative of the Oxford Action for Palestine Encampment outside the Pitt Rivers Museum. The protestor spoke on the condition of anonymity wishing to avoid detracting from the ‘real story’. 

We sat in the shade by the Radcliffe Science Library. The anonymous protestor had just been given their lunch from the food tent, a box of seasoned rice and a Palestinian flatbread which had been donated to the camp by a member of the local community. 

The long pauses as they considered how to respond were punctuated by the sound of cars beeping in support and cheers back from the camp. Members of the camp milling about stopped to talk to them, some just checking in, some asking for advice. 

Once the interview had begun in earnest I was stuck by the way the protestor spoke of their fellow camp residents with such love. After a week of rain and mud and then baking heat I would expect most people to be at each other’s throats but when this individual spoke of their fellow campers the impression I got was one of unparalleled admiration. 

I was just as impressed with the thoughtfulness of the answers, after a week of near silence from the university there is no doubt that those in the camp will be wondering what to do next. The candour with this person was willing to admit that this might not work, that the group had to be committed to a cause not a tactic was truly surprising.

It was also clear just what a toll the week was taking on these students, the heat, the lack of sleep, and then the incident that occurred the previous night, where six men shouted abuse at the camp, has left the generally very cheery camp slightly on edge.

The interview in full can be read below: (Edited slightly for clarity) 

Cameron Samuel Keys: “Do you have an estimate of numbers of people sleeping here?”

Encampment Protestor: “Changes night by night. … If you were to say that there were two people in every two-person tent, and one person everyone in every one-person tent, about 90, I’d say more accurately it would be about 60.”

CSK: “How long are you planning on staying? And if at all, how would your plans change following an announcement from the uni that they’re happy to leave you here as long as you want to stay?”

EP: “There is no concrete plan yet. We’ll be staying here as long as we think that it is an efficient way to keep eyes focused on Palestine and the uni more likely to negotiate. We’re not going to stay here more than we think it’s helpful. But for now, we have no plans to leave.”

“We’re not going to stay here more than we think it’s helpful. But for now, we have no plans to leave.”

Anonymous Protestor

CSK:” I believe the police have been showing up most mornings, what do they want to know? And how have you guys been responding?”

EP: “We’ve not been engaging with the police” 

CSK: “Has there been any suggestion from the uni security or the museum that moves are being made to get rid of the camp?”

EP: “We’ve not heard anything.”

CSK: “How are decisions made in camp; from the running of the timetable to the food that is eaten?”

EP: “We’re trying to work in horizontal decision-making as much as we can. Which means making decisions collectively as a group. … [I]n terms of, like democracy, and what we do, internally, again, that is predominantly made through horizontal processes, which we’ve been working on and developing as we realise that some things work and some things don’t. It’s not a process that we’ve got perfectly to start with or it’s even perfect now. But it’s kind of an iterative process in which we try to make sure that camp is genuinely a vision of a better world and that we’re not trying to perpetuate the same things we’re trying to protest against”.

“…We try to make sure that camp is genuinely a vision of a better world and that we’re not trying to perpetuate the same things we’re trying to protest against”

Anonymous Protestor

CSK: “How would you characterise the support from passers-by?”

EP “Broadly, really positive. It’s really lovely to have support from the community and feel like we are creating a space that is welcoming and positive and giving people hope. I think it’s also really important to note that there have been plenty of people who have disagreed, who have been welcomed in to have conversations within the camp. It’s not like it’s been … everyone who has come and engaged with us has been fully supportive but it’s really important that our camp is a space in which positive and constructive conversations can be held safely. The vast majority of the time people who have been looking to engage with us in any capacity have been looking to do that.”

CSK: “How has living here for a week impacted you and other members of the camp physically and mentally? What have you learned from this experience?”

EP: “I mean, everyone’s exhausted. That’s the predominant, physical impact. Everyone is tired and muddy and hot. I think it’s been quite a lot of intense emotion [and] that obviously takes its toll. I think emotionally, I’d reiterate that it’s a really bittersweet place to be. … When you put yourself in this space, you are intensely aware of the reasons why you’re here. It is impossible to not live whilst being conscious of the reality of what’s happening in Gaza? Not feel permanently…grieving and sad. I think in terms of the emotions that just come from living in close proximity with a group of people you might not have known, but I’ve grown to love. It’s difficult, I mean it’s always gonna be difficult. I think that I have witnessed so many acts of love and solidarity from people who were complete strangers. And people who still are, there have been people that have passed through the camp once, who have put up tents, and then just going about with their day. I think that living here for a week has given me hope that people are willing to do the work.

Chalk writings on the wall at the Pitt Rivers pro-Palestine encampment. Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

So it’s not easy, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but people aren’t giving up. More and more people are coming back; more and more people are being willing to help; more and more people are upskilling themselves so they can help in a different or a better way. 

Everyone is really committed to creating the best community we can so that we can be the most effective we can. There is a real consciousness that community and genuine solidarity and caring for each other and protecting each other is a really important first step in the way to building solidarity with people across the world. If we can’t do it here, then where can we do it? So I’m pretty proud of everyone who has been involved.”

CSK: “Finally is there anything else you’d like to say about the camp or the university or the world more generally?”

EP: “As an Oxford student, I think it is our duty to contribute here as much as we can. Whether that be on the encampment or through other equally important acts of solidarity, whether that be passing motions through JCRs or going to the SU or anything like that. To the university…we have delivered them our demands. We are peaceful. We are here. We want to talk and we are ready to talk and the reason that dialogue hasn’t happened is not because of us. 

To the world, I guess, just I would reiterate that we are here to ask demands and with the university, but we are also here to direct attention to kind of gather attention and then be able to reflect it.

The ultimate end of this isn’t to have the media focused on Oxford. The intention here is to catch eyes and be able to divert them to Palestine and to the people there. I think it’s important that everyone who has done so much for us and … who has stood in solidarity with us, we appreciate it endlessly and we ask for that solidarity to be shown with the people of Gaza in whatever way you have the capacity to do so.”

As the encampment outside the Pitt Rivers Museum drifts into its second week there the number of questions for protestors, students and university administrators alike has only grown. Will the university respond? Will they engage with the camp’s demands? What will the camp do if they receive no response? How long are these protestors willing to continue living on a small patch of grass outside a museum?