Otago Joins Nationwide Tertiary Palestine Protest

Otago Joins Nationwide Tertiary Palestine Protest

“Free Gaza!”

Muslim Student Associations across Aotearoa New Zealand banded together last Thursday, May 23rd, to rally for Palestine. The rally is the brain-child of a meeting that took place in Wellington on the 12th of May, in which the presidents of Muslim Student Associations collectively decided on a national strategy concerning the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip. 

The rally took place across all New Zealand tertiary education institutions and aimed to stand against genocide and in solidarity with Palestine. Critic Te Ārohi sat down with the University of Otago Muslim Students’ Association’s (MUSA) President Ferris prior to the rally. 

Ferris told Critic Te Ārohi that their demands were that “we want the University to divest from and disclose any transactions or investments with the state of Israel. We want the University to declare Palestine as an independent state, and call for the decolonisation of Palestine due to Israeli occupation.”

While the rally is focused on the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, Ferris said that it also speaks toward a broader sentiment to “denounce Islamophobia, anti-semitism, and any sort of racism within New Zealand.”

Asked what he was excited about regarding the rally, Ferris told Critic Te Ārohi that “this was an opportunity for Muslim students [across Aotearoa New Zealand] to come together and call on our universities to speak out against injustice. It’s encouraging students to use their voice.” 

He did admit, however, to being nervous about potential opposition on the day: “We do have to be ready for any sort of push-backs on the day – any haters.” Despite this, he revealed that the Dunedin campus had a largely positive response to the pro-Palestine movement. This differed from locations such as Wellington, which have struggled with anti-Palestine protestors in past rallies. Critic Te Ārohi can confirm that there was no anti-Palestine presence at the rally. 

There were safety measures in place to ensure that the rally went as smoothly and peacefully as possible. Ferris said that the Vice-Chancellor endorsed the protest, and that both Campus Watch and the Proctor agreed to be present in case of any disruption – anti-Palestine protestors or otherwise. The collective Muslim Students’ Associations also organised a national spokesperson to speak on behalf of the associations in case of any questions regarding the rallies.

Speaking to Critic after the rally, which saw students chanting and marching from the Union Lawn to the Clocktower, Ferris said that he felt that “turn-out was great” and that he hopes students can take “something positive” from the experience. He also hopes that the University issues a formal response to the demands of students to divest from, disclose, and denounce the actions of the state of Israel.

This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2024.
Posted 7:35pm Sunday 26th May 2024 by Hanna Varrs.