Content warning: Mentions of anti-semitism, Islamophobia, racism and discriminatory language

On Monday 29th April, ANU students initiated an encampment on Kambri Lawn in solidarity with Palestine and the current situation in Gaza. Among these students initially included representatives from the ANU Student Association (ANUSA), Students and Staff Against War (SSAW) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt). 

This comes in the wake of a series of encampments which have emerged across Australian and American university campuses over recent weeks in solidarity with Palestine. Columbia University students were first to set up a ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’, yet the movement has spread quickly to Australia, with the University of Sydney encampment beginning on Tuesday the 23rd of April and the University of Melbourne’s on Thursday the 25th.

Day 1:

The encampment has four principal demands on ANU:

  1. Cut ties with all weapons manufacturing companies;
  2. Disclose and divest from all companies complicit in the genocide in Gaza; 
  3. Cut academic ties with Israel, including its exchange partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem;
  4. Condemn the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the apartheid Israeli state. 

The encampment further demands that the Albanese Government “immediately cut ties with Israel”, “stop allowing weapons exports to Israel” and “recognise a Palestinian state.” 

Following the establishment of the encampment at midday on Monday, the protesters held a rally at 5:00pm on University Avenue between Kambri Lawn and Fenner Hall. Despite heavy rain, a crowd gathered to hear from ANUSA President Phoenix O’Neill (they/them), then Education Officer Luke Harrison (they/them), and David Perkins from the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN). 

A counter-protest was led at the same time by a group of students carrying Israeli flags and posters. The two groups were around 50 metres apart, with members of Unisafe security standing between them. 

Counter-protestors on the first day of the encampment.

Day 2 

On Tuesday, the first full day following the establishment of the encampment, members took part in a photo in front of Kambri Lawn to be posted to their social media demonstrating solidarity with Dr Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Dr Abdel-Fattah is an academic at Macquarie University who organised an ‘all-ages’ event at the University of Sydney encampment on Friday 26th April. Children were invited to join in on the protest pro-Palestinian chants.The academic was criticised on the grounds that she was “indoctrinating children”.  Shadow Minister for Education Sarah Henderson is among those calling for Dr Abdel-Fattah to be stripped of her funding, as her research has received funding through the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship until 2026.

In an Instagram post made by Students Justice for Palestine, they stated, “We stand with Dr Abdel-Fattah in the face of the Murdoch press’ racist smear campaign … as students we will campaign in defence [sic] of any staff members who are targeted because they are against genocide, against apartheid, and against the occupation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, SSAW member Beatrice Tucker (they/them) and Education Officer Luke Harrison (they/them) spoke to Ross Solly on ABC Radio Drive regarding the encampment. The ABC published this interview the same afternoon, in particular quoting Tucker that, “Hamas deserve our unconditional support… we must be unconditional, but we must be critical also”. Tucker was the ANUSA Education Officer in 2023.

Day 3 

The following day, students at the encampment released a statement expressing that, “Views expressed on ABC Canberra on Tuesday evening regarding Hamas are not representative of the views of the encampment.” 

The students clarified, “To be clear: we condemn any and all attacks on civilians, as well as any war crimes. The ANU Gaza Solidarity Encampment reaffirms that we are here first and foremost for the people of Gaza and Palestine, and that means supporting ANU’s divestment from Israel and a free Palestine for the Palestinian people and everyone living in Palestine.” 

Despite the statement, the encampment attracted criticism from the wider student body, in particular from the Australiasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) and Young Liberals ACT. 

Three Jewish ANU students, Daniel Bronitt, Ari Pien and Mia Kline, who is also the co-president of AUJS ACT, were interviewed by ABC’s Ross Solly in response to the previous day’s comments. Mia emphasised that she views encampments as a “real show of activism,” but she explained that a refusal to condemn the events of October 7 is “frightening” for Jewish students on campus.

Students on the Thursday rally.

Day 4

The Encampment rally on Thursday was again met with counter-protestors. Approximately 60 people came out in support of the encampment, and approximately 20 counter-protestors stood in response to the rally on the Sullivans Creek Bridge. Between the two groups stood upwards of 10 police officers, many Unisafe officers and representatives from several media outlets. 

Counter-protestor Ari Pien, told Woroni that “this encampment has made Jews on campus very uncomfortable.” They explained, “Unlike other universities in the country, we don’t get to go home and not deal with it. It’s here when we wake up, when we go to sleep, and that’s making people very upset.” 

He voiced that, following the comments made on ABC radio, he didn’t think the camp had “any legitimacy to continue standing.” 

Counter-protestors at the Thursday rally.

Meanwhile, speakers from the encampment emphasised that they “absolutely reject” the idea that they are “hostile to Jewish students on campus,” and are instead “hostile to Zionism.” The protestors planted an olive tree at the entrance to the encampment, and repeated its chants for the ANU to “disclose” its investments and “divest” from companies complicit in the genocide. 

Later in the afternoon ANUSA released a formal response to the comments made on ABC Drive. 

The Union explained, “ANUSA does not support or condone statements regarding Hamas made by students on ABC Drive on 30 April 2024. These comments do not represent ANUSA’s views nor the views of the great bulk of our members.” 

They clarified, “ANUSA’s support of the ANU Gaza Solidarity Encampment is on the basis of our commitment to supporting peaceful protests for Palestine and Palestinian rights.”

The Union maintained, “We unequivocally condemn antisemitism and Islamophobia and stand in solidarity with all of those affected by this crisis”. The full response can be found here.

Earlier this year, in the first Student Representative Council meeting, motion 6.9 “Free Gaza” dictated ANUSA’s stances and involvement in actions related to pro-Palestinian activism. In particular, the motion stated that the Union, “condemns the bombing, killing, and kidnapping of innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas.” Further, the Union recognises, “that Hamas does not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

ANUSA’s formal involvement to this point had involved lending marquees and other equipment is derived from action 9 of the motion which states the Union, “Commits to supporting peaceful protests for Palestine.” This is notwithstanding the members of the executive being involved in an individual capacity – both speaking at rallies or being members of the encampment. 

The encampment has not accepted any financial donations, from ANUSA or otherwise, affirming that it only accepts food and supplies and encourages those who wish to donate to do so directly to Gaza. In the first week, the encampment has received significant donations and support from the wider Canberra community.  

Despite this statement, arguments such as those from the Facebook page of Young Liberals ACT, have asserted that ANUSA’s funding by SSAF implies that it ought to be apolitical in order to adequately represent the entire student body. 

However, ANUSA’s service provision: including the operation of the BKSS, their free legal service, and the Student Assistance Team, remain separate from the Union’s activism and accessible to all students regardless of their personal or political beliefs. ANUSA’s dual involvement in political representation and apolitical services is unique compared with most other universities, where these two functions are split between separate organisations. 

On the popular facebook forum ANU Confessions, a moratorium was initially imposed on any posts related to Monday’s Kambri protests. However, this was lifted soon after, as posts about the encampment began to appear on Tuesday. The majority of confessions posted during the day largely voiced outrage at the encampment, with many asking how they could withdraw their membership of ANUSA given their involvement in the encampment. 

However, students noticed discrepancies between posts they’d either submitted or commented on. Many comments supporting the encampment began to disappear, and soon after, confessions began to appear increasingly proportionately critical of the encampment, with very few pro-encampment posts seeming to “make it through” the moderators. Woroni has been made aware by some ANU students that their comments voicing support of the encampment were deleted shortly after being posted. 

One student whose comments had been deleted told Woroni, “I do think it’s important for people to know that what they’re seeing is being censored and does not accurately reflect the ANU community”. 

On Thursday, the page posted in a statement that, “we are extremely disappointed by comments made by ANUSA pledging “unconditional support” for a terrorist organisation.” The state, “We ask ANUSA to retract their comments, and to focus on issues more relevant to the student body.” 

The ANUSA President Phoenix O’Neill responded to this statement, clarifying that “[t]his comment was not made by ANUSA.”, to which the admins commented “Stop wasting our SSAF fees”. Historically, taking a clear political stance of any sort has been avoided by the page. 

Day 5 

On Friday morning, Canberra Students for Palestine Justice posted that “The student union has pulled out of the camp, so they’re removing branded gazebos & other things that they own, but we do have extras that we’ve borrowed from the community.” Later that morning, the ANUSA marquees had been taken down and it was clear that other resources had been shuffled around. An NTEU marquee had also been erected, in line with the ACT Branch Committee’s statement, which expressed their solidarity with the encampment. 

ANUSA explained that the withdrawal is “due to comments made that were out of line with ANUSA policy,” and that they want to ensure the safety of all students on campus, in particular Jewish students on campus. The Union reiterated that they continue to stand for “peace and the liberation of Palestine and continue to condemn the Israeli government for its actions in the Gaza Strip. ANUSA will continue its advocacy on Palestine”.

ANUSA’s withdrawal from the encampment meant that the Union could no longer support the encampment through logistical means or personnel. ANUSA representatives can still participate in the encampment outside of their working hours.  

Official communication was also finally issued by the University, in an email to staff on Friday morning and to students later in the afternoon. The university-wide email emphasised that “[a]ll staff and students are free to express themselves in line with the University’s Code of Conduct and Australian law,” and warned that “[i]f any speech or actions discriminate or violate our Code of Conduct or Australian laws, we will take disciplinary action.” 

Shortly after 5pm on Friday, ANUSA announced that the Education Officer, Luke Harrison had resigned from their position. No further information was provided.

Day 6 

Saturday’s 1pm rally hosted by Palestine Action Group Canberra, which was held for the 30th consecutive week, involved a march from Garema Place into the ANU encampment. Those gathered heard from Gia and Miriam, as well as representatives from the Australian Education Council (AEC) and the Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU). 

There were no counter-protesters present. 

Miriam who is a Palestinian student, told the crowd, “How am I supposed to feel safe in an institution that profits off killing family? My thirty plus family members are dead.” She continued, “How am I supposed to graduate knowing my family’s blood is on my degree?” 

Students at the encampment told Woroni, “The encampment is a safe space which is anti-racist including Islamophobia, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression such as homophobia and transphobia. We are all here for our collective liberation.” 

Later in the week, the encampment faced verbal assaults from passing by students. Woroni observed comments such as “Go back to the Middle East” and “Queers supporting people who hate queers”, directed at students in the encampment. Woroni has reached out to the University for a comment on the safety concerns regarding students at the encampment. 

However, students at the encampment remain steadfast in their demands, telling Woroni, “Our resilience is because our demands are very important and essential to the movement.” They maintain, “We want ANU to disclose, divest and fulfil these demands.”

Woroni’s coverage of the protest and counter-protests will continue in the coming weeks.

Rally on the first day of the encampment.

As always, please access support if these events or their coverage are distressing to you.

ANU Student Safety and Wellbeing Team 

ANUSA Student Assistance 

This article was written by members of the Woroni Board of Editors and Woroni News reporters. It does not accurately reflect any one person’s opinion or views. Please direct message Woroni, or email, if you have any questions, concerns or corrections. Please also reach out if you would like a photo of you removed from our social media accounts.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.