Students and tents on the lawn at the OA4P encampment

University blocks access to Pitt Rivers Encampment

This morning, the University of Oxford erected metal fences around the outside of the Pitt Rivers Encampment. One sign was put up which stated “This site is temporarily closed on public safety grounds and to prevent further damage to university property. Unauthorised access is prohibited.”

A second sign explained that property inside the camp would be held in storage until 22 July 2024 and then disposed of. 

A spokesperson for Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) stated that: “The action was taken with no prior communication to OA4P despite OA4P repeatedly expressing a commitment to the University to continue using the space. “

The action came as the encampment announced that the University had agreed to an “accelerated University-wide review” of “current ethical investment policies.” OA4P stated that this was a “direct response to the mass movement of students, faculty and staff across the University calling for disclosure and divestment.

OA4P requested additional support for the students who have entered the area via their instagram. In communications between protestors, seen by The Oxford Student, the protestors planned to “carry on as normal” as “members of the public are being allowed in if they just acknowledge they know the “health and safety risk””. 

Throughout the morning OA4P had been organising a “community gardening event” hoping to turn the camp into a “community of space”. Members of the camp have painted boards with olive trees and birds, and a number of flower beds have been built in the centre of the camp.

An individual inside the fence, in a video posted on the OA4P instagram story, stated that “The University administration chose to quietly put up fences to show down the entirety of the area despite the fact that we continue to be in an ongoing dialogue with the university administration.”

An OA4P spokesperson further added: “The Administration has also chosen to shut down the encampment ahead of our scheduled Community Gardening Day event, in which OA4P was to further develop the raised-bed garden we have established on the site. The plans for the garden were made with a detailed understanding of the sensitive areas of the land with a commitment to the health and safety of the area.”

The protestor went on to suggest that while “the University claims that this is a health and safety issue, but we all know what this is. It’s a blatant attempt to shut down a student protest… despite overwhelming support for OA4P demands”.

The University of Oxford stated: “The lawn outside the Museum of Natural History is an important space for our many visitors to enjoy and relax in. We have temporarily fenced off the area in preparation for returning it to public use, to avoid further damage to the lawn and to remove any hazards to the public that may have been left.”

“We are also looking to prevent damage to the lawn’s irrigation system and associated warranties, the protective membrane for the lawn and the museum collections beneath. This land is for everyone at the University and our visitors, and we are taking these steps in the interest of public safety and preserving our own property and collections.”

“Over the last week the encampment members were informed on several occasions that there could be no gardening and urgent action was required when they advertised today’s event yesterday morning.”

The OA4P spokesperson further stated that they were “deeply troubled by this blatant attempt to intimidate and shutdown peaceful protest, which defies the University’s recently stated commitment to good-faith dialogue. OA4P continues to meet with the Administration as part of a regular, ongoing dialogue to discuss disclosure, investments, finance and the rebuilding of Palestinian higher education – a commitment the Administration has publicly made.”

“We believe good faith dialogue necessitates respect for these sites of peaceful protest, which have garnered overwhelming support from the University and city communities.”

“OA4P remains committed to the development of the Palestine solidarity space on the Pitt Rivers Museum site, which is dear to thousands in the University community as the site of our first encampment. As the University moved to close the area, a handful of students entered the site. Since, supporters have joined to participate in the pre-scheduled Memorial Gardening event.”

“The students call on all members of the University community to come to the Pitt Rivers Museum camp and demand the reversal of this draconian shutdown of peaceful protest.”