Students march in support of Palestinians

University of Otago students have marched in support of the Palestinian cause, as the war in Gaza escalates.

More than 250 students marched from the University Union lawn to the clocktower building yesterday in support of the Muslim University Students’ Association (MUSA) and its demands that the university "recognise Palestine as an independent and sovereign state"; "disclose and divest all partnerships with the Israel government"; and "denounce anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination".

Otago University acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said "to the best of my knowledge the university does not have any economic ties to Israel".

"Alongside the wellbeing of our community, it is imperative for our academics to feel able to speak on areas of their expertise, including the events happening in Gaza."

MUSA Otago president Ferris Abdul-Aziz said he was pleased with the turnout and the vibe of the march.

More than 250 University of Otago students marched from the union lawn to the clocktower building...
More than 250 University of Otago students marched from the union lawn to the clocktower building in support of the Palestinian cause. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
"We are definitely respectful to students, staff and property.

"We were a bit nervous — it’s the first time for me organising something like this — but we know it’s a good cause.

"It’s up for the university to stand up and take this issue seriously."

In Gaza, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health says 35,000 people have died in the Israel-Hamas war since October 7 last year, and that it has "fully identified" nearly 25,000 of the dead.

Rose Abdul-Aziz led the chanting during the march.

"I’m Iraqi by origin, so I know what it’s like to experience violence in your own country ... In the end, the Palestinian people are our brothers and sisters, and I have to stand with them.

"I think people focus on this movement as being quite polarising, but it’s actually brought a lot of people together. You have people from the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people representing the indigenous community and other minorities. They all relate to this cause.

"There’s just an air of solidarity and love."

Rose Abdul Aziz
Rose Abdul Aziz
Since April, police have detained demonstrators at schools including Emerson College in Boston, New York University, the University of Texas at Austin, Ohio State University and Columbia University.

Otago university student Neave Ashton said they had been following coverage of the protests.

"The authorities and establishment have basically slandered the protesters as anti-Semitic, when all they’re doing is peacefully standing up for human rights," they said.

"Here, we’re just following their example; we’re very proud of them."

The MUSA also helped organise protests at Canterbury, Massey, Auckland, Waikato and Victoria Universities yesterday.