Current Events Reporter Charlotte Kissick-Jones interviewed members of KCL Action Palestine in the wake of their recent protest on Waterloo Bridge. Inviting a response from KCL Israeli Society, this interview and analysis examines the ways in which KCL funds human rights abuses in direct opposition to their ‘Strategic Vision 2029’.
[Featured Image: KCLAP activists protesting on Waterloo Bridge, holding a sign reading ‘Apartheid Off Campus’.]
Thursday 29th of November marked the ‘International Day of UN Solidarity with the Palestinian People’, a 71-year-old struggle for the Palestinian people to regain self-determination and independence. An event that has more of a direct association to the student body at King’s also took place; KCL Action Palestine staged a protest on Waterloo Bridge in support of the UN’s solidarity, but primarily to call for Apartheid Off Campus. King’s College London’s ongoing commitment to Israel, a regime that has been officially declared an Apartheid by the U.N Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, means that our establishment is fundamentally supporting the violation of Palestinian Human Rights. The protest of green and red flares, applying the Palestinian flag as a reminder of their national identity, should be commended as a necessary form of political activism in reaction to the questionable alliances that KCL has made. The international standing of our university provides a privileged position for students and professors alike to contribute to global matters, improving lives and increasing opportunities for those less fortunate. Especially with the current importance of international intervention, students should be able to study at an institute that encourages the implementation of our education into important matters such as this. The Chairman of Council paradoxically states in ‘King’s Strategic Vision 2029’ that ‘King’s aspires to tackle global challenges and serve society in a way that is contemporary, forward-looking and unrestrained’, this brings into question the faith that students can place into the vision of a university that has funded the brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory.
KCL Action Palestine has responded to my questions on this protest and their aims following the event on Waterloo Bridge, the location of the protest due to its situation between the two main campuses of King’s. The society decided to take part in a national day of action alongside other student activist groups, in reaction to ‘illegal settlement construction (that) unrelentingly expands, Palestinians are forced to endure ongoing violence and incitement’. Previously, the society has staged a non-violent creative Festival of Resistance to counter the presence of Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, on campus. A representative of KCL Action Palestine stated that this included ‘music, chanting and dabke (a Palestinian dance)’ all of which complied with the university’s newly imposed restrictions of protests. The university demonstrated clearly violent responses with three police riot vans being called to the scene, this extreme reaction to the protest caused a safety threat to students, the majority of whom were people of colour. KCL Action Palestine responded to this exhibition from the university as ‘not only abhorrent, but extremely telling of KCL to comply with the excessive security demands of the Israeli Embassy.’ Both the new restrictions on freedom of assembly proves the university’s increasing fear of students utilising their knowledge, and reluctance to listen to the demands of the student body. In reaction to the university’s disregard of the society’s actions, their representative has stated ‘On Monday the 3rd, we will be releasing an Open Letter to Ed Byrne, calling on the College to cease all links with institutions which are complicit in Israeli Apartheid. A key example is KCL’s l ink with the Technion- Israeli Institution of Technology. The Technion develops weaponry for Israel’s largest weapon company, Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems makes surveillance and killer drones, large weapons systems, and ammunitions that Israel uses against a civilian population. We aim to collect as many signatures as possible from students, academics, staff and alumni; further action will depend upon how KCL chooses to respond to the call’.
The demonstrations of KCL Action Palestine bring to light the ability of student bodies to act against violence and human rights violations. Awareness of international politics is greatly important, but this also emphasises our duty in following the decisions of our university. Our institution has a large role in the international arena in terms of researching and funding; large contributions to the weaponry of an apartheid regime should be a wake-up call for students to care about where the money we invest into the university is implemented.
I would like to invite a dialogue in response to this article, in particular from the Israeli Society. I am a firm believer in expression of counter-narratives, and a resolution being reached through respectful debate and mutual understanding. If you have a response or questions please do not hesitate to contact myself, or the blog.
‘My narrative is that I exist’- Lyricism as Palestinian Resistance
Attending ‘An Evening with Reem Kelani’ was a perfectly-timed reminder that Palestinian resistance through literature and song is just as important today as it was when it first emerged.
Reem Kelani, in contrast to the political activism demonstrated by KCL Action Palestine, stands as a symbol for an alternative form of activism. Her performance of Palestinian and Arabic music situates itself within her homeland before and after 1948 as a means to educate listeners, a Western audience in particular, of what it means to be Palestinian. This was supported through the translation of lyrics into English after each performance, ‘we were driven out of this house and a stranger came’. Her lyricism and song hold the ability to create simultaneous celebration, sorrow and hope. Even without an understanding of the Arabic language, Kelani’s powerful vocals and personal expression of loss was enough to evoke tears from the audience. Her lyrical inspiration from poets, such as Mahmoud Darwish who embodied the struggle for Palestinian nationalism, puts life back into resistance writers of the past.
The union of both Middle Eastern and British citizens at the event served as reflection of the artist’s transnational standing, finding home in both Manchester and Palestine, and the importance of international unison. The artists ability to captivate a diverse audience through participation of singing, clapping and dancing transformed a performance into a unified celebration. Events such as these offer a platform to reclaim celebration of Palestinian identity and serve as a reminder that it will live on regardless of the Israeli’s actions. Reem Kelani symbolises the powerful Palestinian feminine figure, an image that the media has attempted to reduce and instead portray as vulnerable and mournful. As Kelani faultlessly put it, ‘I have lost a beautiful dream, but I have not lost the willing’.
In Kelani’s interview with The Guardian in 2008 she stated that she initially struggled to get a record contract in England due to her subject matter, and she was unable to say that she was from Palestine on the cover of her CD. This clear political agenda of censoring in England enhances the importance of her performances as a free space for expression of nationality.
To restrict the use of ‘From Palestine’ on an album is to contribute to the deconstruction of one’s identity. This clearly demonstrates that the role of lyricism and literature as a form of resistance should not be overlooked, even within a more politically active society. In ‘Permission to Narrate’, Edward Said stated that ‘the inadmissible existence of the Palestinian people whose history, actuality and aspirations, as possessed of a coherent narrative direction pointed towards self-determination, were the objects of this (summer of 1982 invasion) violence’. This proves the importance for a reclaiming of a national voice, and the event held at St John’s Church did just this, through a celebration of Palestinian nationality and simply, a love for Arabic music.