Several hundred students have marched against the war in Gaza calling for Israel to stop its offensive, as UTS’s Vice-Chancellor defended students’ right to protest amidst attacks in the media.

Students from University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, University of NSW, Macquarie University, and various high schools, rallied at different points in the city centre before marching on Town Hall yesterday.

Speakers called for the siege of Gaza to be lifted, an end to the occupation of the West Bank and demanded Australia’s government cut military ties with Israel.

“If our leaders won’t take to the streets, then we will,” said year 12 student Nora Hassain, who addressed the crowd at Town Hall.

“We will continue to strike, protest and use our voices because silence is never an option.”

Chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” students marched through the city up George and Pitt streets before descending on Town Hall for the National Student Strike for Palestine.

Speaking at the rally, UTS student, Yasmine Johnson, called for a “world of humanity”, stressing the dire state Gaza is in where “food hasn’t been delivered to Northern Gaza since January 23rd”.

It is a fundamental part of an academic environment that we can present, defend and debate issues.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) this month found one in six children under the age of two is acutely malnourished in Gaza, while 64 per cent of households eat only one meal a day. A further 95 per cent of households are restricting food to adults to give to their children. On Thursday, Israel was accused of shooting into a crowd of starving people queuing for food aid, killing more than 100 and injuring several hundred.

UTS student Zoe Bassett criticised the Australian Army’s recent awarding of a $917 million defence contract to Israeli company Elbit Systems, to provide software for Australia’s Redback Infantry vehicles. Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest arms company and has been accused of “field-testing” its weapons on Palestinians.

“It’s really disappointing but not surprising and speaks to the increased militarisation in Australia at the moment,” she said.

Joining Thursday’s strike, City of Sydney Greens Councillor, Sylvie Ellsmore, said: “30,000 people, mostly women and children have been killed, and yet the Albanese Labor government continues to support, fund, and provide weapons to Israel.”

She called on “every level of government to stand up against genocide”.

UTS’s announcement last week that students attending the strike would not be penalised for missing lectures was attacked in the media, with Alex Ryvchin, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive, telling The Daily Telegraph Jewish students were “immensely” distressed. He falsely accused students of supporting Hamas with chants of “violent, genocidal slogans that are a feature of these rallies, and doing so with the blessing of the university”.

Ryvchin also demanded UTS “terminate” the employment of the Palestinian owner of the Cornerstone Cafe at UTS for boycotting Coca-Cola and Pepsi and displaying a Palestinian flag.

Vice-Chancellor of UTS, Andrew Parfitt, responded to the criticism in an email to students and staff on Wednesday supporting their choice to “follow their convictions”.

“In any democratic country, but particularly within a university environment, freedom of speech and the ability to respectfully debate ideas – including contentious ones – is crucial,” he wrote.

“It is a fundamental part of an academic environment that we can present, defend and debate issues.”

While the university encourages staff and students’ freedom of speech, Parfitt reiterated that “individuals views are not those of the university”.

Meanwhile, hundreds of UTS academics, signatories to an Open Letter to the university urging it to review its relationship with partner universities and companies that support Israel’s occupation of Palestine, met on Wednesday to discuss further action, including a staff protest. Some joined protesting students yesterday.

Jamie Tyers, a UNSW student at the march, told Central News he was impressed with the turn out by both students and staff.

“I think it says that a lot of students understand the links between students fighting in the West against our own governments support for genocide and what is happening in Gaza,” he said.

Marching Palestinian UTS student, Raneem Emad, vowed to fight on.

“Our education has taught us a lot of things, it has taught us when we see something wrong, we do what we can to stop it,” she said.

“How can I be silent when my family is murdered and displaced, how can I pursue my education as per normal when my homeland is being bombed to the ground.”

Main image by Joel Davies.