Dozens of students from the University of Sydney and the University of Technology are tonight camping out for a fourth night protesting ties with weapons manufacturers and organisations arming Israel’s six-month long siege of Gaza.

As many as 150 students have been attending the vigil during the day, inspired by similar encampments in the US, and at night sleeping in rows of tents erected on Sydney University’s historic lawns.

“Our university is complicit in, and supporting, the genocide,” said Harrison Brennan, President of the University of Sydney SRC, and organiser of the camp which sprang up on Tuesday.

“We’ve had some cold nights now, but it’s been going really well. The community’s come out to support and build the encampment here at USYD.”

The encampment, which Brennan described as “ad hoc” in its planning, was inspired by similar events across the United States, specifically at Columbia University in New York City, where police have arrested dozens of protesters.

“We’re the second encampment internationally,” the 21-year-old added. “So we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from [similar actions in the US], and the brutal repression a lot of those peaceful protesters have experienced.”

Camps have spread across universities in the United States, with sites appearing at institutions like Harvard, Yale, and New York University. Many of these protests have led to arrests, with tensions swelling over the past week.

Footage of protesters and police clashing at University of Texas, Austin, went viral yesterday.

There have been no such scenes at Sydney University, with police and university security keeping their distance. The peaceful event also sparking similar actions by students at University of Melbourne yesterday, and expectations University of Queensland will begin a camp in coming days.

However, Brennan claimed Sydney University had locked electrical power points on the quadrangle, and sprinklers had been set off under tents.

“They’re trying to make it a bit inconvenient for us to stay here. We’re still planning on staying regardless,” said Brennan, who has been sleeping in an eight-person tent on the university grounds, with daily trips home to shower before returning to the site.

A spokesperson for Sydney University said it is “actively engaging with the protesters in a civil and peaceful manner and there is currently no disruption to classes or university business”.

Members of the public, including many students, have held a 24-hour vigil outside the Marrickville electoral office of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese since mid-February, which has been largely ignored by the media.

Students are seeking to have administrators cut ties with Israeli organisations and weapons manufacturers, with a focus on organisations like Thales, a French multinational that does business in weapons research and manufacturing.

RMIT divested recently from Elbit Systems… I think it’s giving students a bit of a sense there’s a tangible outcome you can fight for here.

Of particular concern, Brennan and other organisers say, are the university’s mandatory placements of some engineering students at Thales.

“When you do that mandatory placement unit, you sign off all your knowledge, and sort of contributions as a student to Thales to use,” Brennan told Central News. “Which can be, of course, misused in many sorts of ways.

“Due to the community placements and how they work, [students] might not want to work with Thales, but it’s the only option because they’ve submitted their industry community placement late… unless they wait a whole semester later, they’re required to do the placement with Thales.”

Yasmine Johnson, a UTS student and member of Students for Palestine has been involved in the encampment since its first day, and shared similar concerns about relationships between Australian universities and weapons manufacturers.

“All the universities have ties to weapons companies, and ties to the genocide that’s happening in Gaza right now,” she said. “UTS, for example, has ties with the same company, Thales, that we’re protesting against Sydney Uni’s ties to.

“The universities are all complicit in this genocide, but we wanted to see where can we make the biggest splash? Where is the most obvious spot in Sydney? And I think outside the quadrangle at Sydney Uni, which everyone knows and recognises, is a really good place to start.”


About 150 students have attended the vigil, with as many as a third constantly encamped at USYD. Photo: Nick Newling.


Johnson, who spoke of the encampments emphasis on “teach-in” sessions, where academics and experts teach students about a variety of topics like Middle Eastern politics, Australian imperialism and “student radicalism”, said student protest actions had been successful at calling for change in Australia.

“RMIT divested recently from Elbit Systems, or cut ties with Elbit Systems,” she added. “I think it’s giving students a bit of a sense that there’s a tangible outcome that you can kind of fight for here.”

Elbit Systems, an Israeli defence contractor, was awarded a $917 million contract from the Australian Government in February to develop weapons technology that would be used in the construction of Infantry Fighting Vehicles in Victoria.

Australia’s use of Elbit military technology came under criticism after Israeli military sources confirmed the missile that killed Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom in Gaza was manufactured by Elbit, and in the wake of a 2021 army directive to not use Elbit technologies due to perceived data security risks.


Students set up the camp five days ago after being inspired by encampments at universities in the US. Photo: Nick Newling.


A number of Australian universities, including UTS  have also been condemned in recent years for maintaining relationships with Elbit and partner Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, for its involvement in the defence industry.

RMIT announced its divestment from Elbit Systems and their Australian affiliates in late 2023, well before the latest government contract.

Johnson, who is herself Jewish, believes debates around the framing of Palestinian protests as anti-semitic have been disappointing, but are beginning to change.

“I think it’s a very deliberate attempt by Zionist groups,” she said. “And I think it’s a real shame because it is then picked up by the media, by the politicians and so on, as a way to try and undermine the pro-Palestine activism that’s taking place.

“We’re seeing more and more organisations like Jewish Voice for Peace in the US, like Jews Against the Occupation here, coming out and having a very visible presence at the protests that I think is starting to change that narrative a bit.”

Families for Palestine, an organisation which advocates for a free Palestine through solidarity, community & action, held an event at the camp earlier today.

It saw families meet with Australian writer and Palestine advocate, Randa Abdel-Fattah, and performing a “kids march” around the university’s quadrangle.

Zena, a Palestinian-Australian mother who describes herself as “heavily involved” in protest actions across Sydney, including the picket outside the Prime Minister’s office, brought three of her children to the university.

Zena, with her children Christina (12), Andrew (two) and Morris (seven). Photo: Nick Newling.


“The space that we’re in, first of all, is a safe space,” she said. “And it’s a place for solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and what they’re going through.

“I wanted to have my children with me so that they get an idea of how these brave university students are standing up to say we need to divest from the illegal entity, and want the University of Sydney to take action.

“I want my kids to get a first hand look at how beautiful the space is, how many people that there are here today. We want to just support the cause as we’ve been supporting every other cause, every other action throughout the past seven months.”

Zena, who has attempted to shield her children from “upsetting” images of the conflict while still ensuring they are aware and involved in the current humanitarian crisis, has been forgoing typical celebrations and family events, like Christmas, Easter and birthdays in solidarity with Palestinians in the Middle East.

“People are being forcibly starved. People are living in tents and they’ve lost their homes and their livelihoods and everything they have worked for their entire lives,” she said. “So, how can I indulge in a celebration when our people in Palestine are going through what they’re going through?


Students are calling for a ceasefire and an end to links with companies arming Israel or enforcing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Photo: Nick Newling.


“They understand that we’re not socialising, we’re doing Palestine actions. So instead of going to the beach, we’re going to a protest. Instead of going to the movies, we’re going to watch a movie for Palestine.”

Despite the reality of daily life in Gaza, Zena is confident her children’s involvement in political and protest events in Sydney is a positive thing.

“There is no action or place that we are doing things in that is not safe for children, like the rallies every week in Hyde Park,” she added. “It’s just a plethora of children and older people and kids and prams, and people are having snacks on their way, and picnics and drinks. It’s a family oriented space, any action that we take.”

Another Palestinian-Australian involved in the encampment is Rand, the women’s officer at the University of Sydney Students Representative Council, and co-convener of the Women’s Collective.

We are building an alternative learning environment where people look out for each other. It’s coming from a place of love, love for one another, love for humanity.

“It’s all about ensuring that what we’re doing here is intersectional,” she said. “We’ve got Queers for Palestine. We’ve got Jews for Palestine. We’ve got Women’s Collective. But at the end of the day, we’re here for Gaza and we’re here for putting an end to the genocide.

“Bringing the families here and the little kiddies was so important because they were able to see that uni isn’t just this boring place where you go and do class and then go home. It can be a very fun environment. You can stand for what’s right. You can stand on the side of justice.

“We are building an alternative learning environment where people look out for each other. It’s coming from a place of love, love for one another, love for humanity.”

Photos by Nick Newling. Main image of student protesters Yasmine Johnson and Harrison Brennan.