A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne


Win or no win? On the last day of a fervid semester, withdrawal and a precarious truce

Thirty days after pro-Palestine student protesters set up tents in the heart of the University of Melbourne’s sandstone precinct, and nine days after a group occupied the Arts West tower, they are packing up and heading home – with mixed feelings. By Alipriya Biswas and Ellen Cutler.

Win or no win? On the last day of a fervid semester, withdrawal and a precarious truce

"We most definitely feel like what we have gotten from the university is enough of a win for us to pack up encampment, but not discontinue our activism altogether": Activist Nabil, South Lawn encampment. Photo: Alipriya Biswas

Story by Alipriya Biswas and Ellen Cutler, additional reporting by Preeshita Shah, Fatehmeh Mirjalil and James Costa

For the past month, anyone entering the sandstone heart of the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus from Grattan Street has passed under two signs.

The first, in the neat brand livery of blue and white, declared: “Welcome – Wominjeka”. The second, daubed in black and red freehand paint on a sheet: “Hope lies in a culture of resistance.”

On day 30 of the “Gaza solidarity encampment” on the South Lawn, and the last day of a tumultuous semester, the sheet was finally taken down as pro-Palestine student protesters began collapsing their tents and heading home.

The protesters have claimed a partial victory in their months-long campaign demanding that the university disclose and divest links to weapons manufacturers involved in the Israel-Hamas war.

After eight days of tense negotiations, threats and a stalemate around the student occupation of the Arts West building, “Unimelb for Palestine” organisers claimed on Wednesday night that university administrators had undertaken to disclose relationships and review its ethical research policies. Protesters voted to pack up and leave if the deal was confirmed.

That confirmation was finally delivered today (Friday) morning in an email to all staff and students from vice-chancellor, Professor Duncan Maskell. “I am pleased to say that we have achieved a peaceful resolution to the occupation of the Arts West building and the South Lawn encampment,” the statement said.

He advised that the university had updated its Middle East Conflict website with further information to provide greater transparency around its relationships with weapons manufacturers.

Students appeared to be in relatively high spirits, playing music on loudspeakers as they rolled up their bedding and packed away supplies. They seemed exhausted, and spoke of how relieved they were to be going home and knuckling down on their final assignments and looming exams.

The Citizen contacted the Melbourne University Jewish Student Society for comment, but there has been no response.

For some long-haul protesters, the outcome validated the ambitions painted on the second sign. Others were more cynical, and indicated they would continue the campaign next semester. They said they were unsure of what exact form that might take, but they were convinced the encampment and occupation had been pivotal to securing a response from the university.

Here’s a sample of what they had to say:

Nabil*, South Lawn Encampment:

“I am not satisfied. I think the university used very loaded and targeted language in their correspondence that displays a level of aggressiveness and racism, but we also understand like a battle with a behemoth of an institution like the University of Melbourne, you have to take your wins.

We most definitely feel like what we have gotten from the university is enough of a win for us to pack up encampment, but not discontinue our activism altogether.

It’s actually been, honestly, one of the greatest experiences of my life … This has been the most successful encampment, definitely in Australia, and one of the more successful ones in the world I think.

Disclosure is just the start. Disclosure should always be coupled with divestment.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. We will not stop our activism until we get divestment.”

Emily*, Arts West Encampment 

“It’s an emotional day today packing up, but I’m glad we were able to leave with our heads held high and some sort of concrete win from the university.

I think that if they were taking their moral obligations seriously, then they would have listened to their staff and students and delivered disclosure and divestment. I strongly believe that as a public institution the university does have a duty of care, not only to its students and its staff, but to the broader community and societal obligations. It’s disappointing they couldn’t deliver that.

As we’ve always said, disclosure was just the first step and we’re not going anywhere. The campaign existed before the encampment and before Mahmoud’s hall, and it’s going to continue after this as well.

When students, staff, and the community stand together we can accomplish anything. I think this is going to give people a well-deserved opportunity to rest, to catch up on their studies, but it’s definitely not the end of the fight whatsoever.

To us, even if the University goes back to calling this Arts West, to us it will always be Mahmoud’s Hall.

*Both requested that their full names not be published. 


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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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