Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

University declines to negotiate, calls pro-Palestinian protest “violent”

The University of Oxford released an official statement regarding protests at the University offices at Wellington Square today, in which they said that protesters affiliated with OA4P had engaged in “violence and criminal action.”

This comes after a group of protesters from Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) entered the University administrative building on Wellington Square, and began to occupy an office on the first floor at around 8am this morning. Thames Valley Police confirmed that 16 people were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and one protester was also arrested on suspicion of common assault.

During the sit-in, one protester was injured after police officers clashed with protesters. The arrested students were put in an armoured police van, which was blocked by protesters sitting down on the streets. Those who continued to occupy Little Clarendon Street were forcibly removed from the path outside Taylor’s by police officers, with onlookers chanting “shame”. Some protestors have also reported feeling concussed from the incident.

The University has turned off commenting for the statement on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and X. The University asserts that “protestors have gone beyond [the] line” of peaceful protests in action that “culminated in forced entry and temporary occupation of a section of the University Offices on Wellington Square”.

“This was not a peaceful sit-in, but a violent action that included forcibly overpowering the receptionist, and then entry into the Vice-Chancellor’s office while she was on a call, shouting and starting to barricade the doors,” said the University. 

It also said that OA4P has escalated from their “mainly peaceful” actions to “direct action tactics while making inaccurate statements and claims about the University.” 

The statement was sent in an email to all students and staff from the University Gold Incident group, the highest level of committee the University can call in an emergency. It was signed by the Vice-Chancellor, some Pro-Vice Chancellors, & 3 heads of colleges at Balliol, St Anne’s and Hertford College, on behalf of the Conference of Colleges.

Thames Valley Police confirmed that 16 people have been arrested “on suspicion of aggravated trespass” and that one person has “also been arrested on suspicion of common assault”.

The University denies the claims of OA4P and stated that they declined to negotiate because of the “prejudicial nature” of OA4P’s preconditions of negotiation requests. They also accused the group of not being “transparent about their membership” and “[the] interests they represent.”

The University insisted that they have “continuously been in dialogue with concerned students and faculty” and engaged with relevant student groups such as the Oxford Palestine Society, the Islamic Society, and the Jewish Society. However, they said, “a faction of students and faculty claiming to represent OA4P have not been interested in dialogue in good faith”.

The day after, some of those were presented as part of a “negotiating team”, with an email demanding formal meetings with the Vice-Chancellor, a “blanket amnesty, and threatened escalatory action” if no response was received in 24 hours. 

The University attributed the lack of transparency in membership to the fact that a delegation of faculty supportive of the encampment met with “senior colleagues” who identified themselves as parties seeking dialogue, but were later represented as official negotiators for OA4P.

The statement also re-outlined a commitment to support Gaza by supporting scholarships and commitments to support academics and students at risk in the region.

The University said some of the protesters created a “deeply intimidating environment,” particularly for Jewish students and staff and members of the local Jewish community.” It emphasized its “imperative” role to make the University “feel safe for all members.”

Concluding the statement, the University argued that they “do not have to follow others’ playbooks,” and called out to protesters, saying: “This is not how to do it.”

Regarding today’s protests and subsequent arrests, Thames Valley Police said that the protest surrounding Wellington Square had “sought to obstruct the removal of the persons arrested” and that they were “peaceful and no arrests were made”. It said that actions taken by its officers were “lawful, proportionate and necessary […] in the difficult circumstances they faced”.

The Oxford University and College Union has released a statement on X and expressed their continued solidarity with OA4P.

“We have written to the VC urging them to call off the police, release those who have already been arrested, and engage students and staff in negotiations in relation to Palestine as they have repeatedly requested over the past weeks,” according to Oxford UCU.

The University and College Union (UCU) which represents 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, researchers & academic-related staff in further and higher education, condemned the Vice-Chancellor for the student arrests in a statement posted on X.

“We condemn Oxford Vice-Chancellor Irene Tracey in the strongest possible terms for bringing in police to violently arrest her own students, engaged in peaceful protest against genocide,” according to UCU.

This follows more than two weeks of protest action from the encampment coalition that has occupied the lawns outside the Pitt Rivers Museum and, more recently, the Radcliffe Camera.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys