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Student-led Palestinian rights group forces universities to break ties with illegal settlement

STUDENT campaigners claimed victory today after two universities pulled out of an exchange programme with a university on illegally occupied Palestinian land.

Soas and the University of West London (UWL) have both ended agreements with Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem — partially built on occupied land in the east of the city.

They had come under pressure from the Apartheid Off Campus (AOC) campaign, which has accused British universities of “actively enabling Israel’s colonial policies against the indigenous people of Palestine.”

The programme has been offered at 11 institutions including the universities of Manchester, Oxford and Leeds.

As part of the exchange, British students usually stay in halls of residence in an illegally occupied area of East Jerusalem.

Some students who signed up for the year abroad were not told by their university that they would be staying in an illegal Israeli settlement, according to a report by Open Democracy.

AOC said that the expansion of the university’s Mount Scopus campus has driven the displacement of Palestinians from their land.

Soas announced that it will end its agreement with Hebrew University this year and move the programme to Haifa after concerns were raised by students.

“We decided that Haifa University offers a better option due to the structure of the programme and issues around students’ welfare,” a Soas statement said.

UWL also told Open Democracy that it was ending its involvement in the programme.

British universities have received a letter urging them to pull out of the programme, signed by 120 student union officers.

“Such partnerships effectively mean that many UK exchange students were housed in illegal settlements, contravening any ethical framework and international law,” it says.

But a number of universities, including Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, have refused to break ties. 

The University of Manchester told Open Democracy that its relationship with the Hebrew University is “vital to delivering a world-class learning experience to our students.”

AOC, which was launched in May this year, has vowed to continue mobilising students across the country until “all complicity with Israeli apartheid has ceased.

“It is unacceptable that UK students are sent to study on stolen land while the occupied population are denied their rights and freedom. Our recent victories show that,” it said.

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