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Inside Mahmoud’s Hall: Pro-Palestine Students Continue Sit-In

On Wednesday 15 May, an autonomous group of protesters involved with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on South Lawn initiated a sit-in in Arts West following a rally that culminated in them renaming the building “Mahmoud’s Hall”.

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On Wednesday 15 May, an autonomous group of protesters involved with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on South Lawn initiated a sit-in in Arts West following a rally that culminated in them renaming the building “Mahmoud’s Hall”.

Occupants of Arts West/Mahmoud’s Hall share the demands of Unimelb for Palestine, asking that the University divest from weapons manufacturers and condemn the targeted killing of Palestinian children and academics and the destruction of Palestinian universities.

Students have renamed the building “Mahmoud’s Hall” in memory of Mahmoud Alnaouq, a 25-year-old Palestinian student killed along with his family in an Israeli airstrike on 20 October 2023. Alnaouq had accepted a scholarship to study in Australia, with a Master of International Relations at the University of Melbourne being his first preference.

A leaked video released Thursday night of Deputy Vice Chancellor Michael Wesley advised that protesters could face potential disciplinary action and police intervention. Wesley cited disruption to university life and classes and alleged serious damage to the building.

Speaking to Farrago, protesters present in the building since Wednesday rebuke Wesley’s statement, saying that classes were not disturbed by the action and that the choice to cancel classes was entirely the University’s. They claim that non-participants are responsible for the one case of property destruction they are aware of.

Notices around campus authorised by Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell appeared on Thursday night, warning that those engaging in protest activities on campus who were not staff or students were trespassing and may be referred to Victoria Police.

At a press conference the next day, Unimelb for Palestine spokesperson Dana and Mahmoud’s Hall participants Gemma and Mercedes informed attendees that University management had stated in a meeting that they would not accede to demands for divestment but would consider exercising greater clarity around funding arrangements.

At 5pm that same Friday, a rally organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Unimelb Branch was held outside Arts West/Mahmoud’s Hall. Speakers at the rally included unionists, academics and activists from around Melbourne.

“As we witnessed an assault on Gaza, we have also witnessed an assault on how we speak of Gaza,” said Overland editor Evelyn Araluen.

Earlier last week, the NTEU Unimelb Branch passed four motions with broad consensus in support of the student protesters’ and their demands and the academic freedom of staff protesters.

The occupation persisted over the weekend despite anxieties about police escalation, with the University informing protesters via loudspeaker on Monday morning that the building had been declared “unsafe” and urging building occupants to leave immediately.

The University’s claim that the building is unsafe is based on assessments allegedly conducted the prior Friday. Protesters have challenged the validity of this assessment and advise Farrago that they have requested a copy of the safety report.

Last week, an open letter organised by Monash University academics Giles Fielke and Elliot Dolan-Evans and signed by over a thousand university staff urged Vice Chancellors to work with protesters to meet their demands, noting the long history of anti-war student protests in Australia.

Farrago will continue to report on the sit-in and encampment over the coming days, with live updates on Instagram and Twitter.

Cover photo by Zoe Anastasiou.

 
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