Meet the Edinburgh student on hunger strike for seven days 'to be heard'

As the Pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Edinburgh’s Old College enters its fourth week, demonstrators continue hunger strikes to protest the university’s investments in Israeli arms, with some strikers fasting for nearly three weeks.

Protestors have occupied the Old College lawn since May 5 and the encampment now hosts about 20 tents donated by staff, students, and community members.

The demonstrators wear head coverings and use code names to maintain anonymity amid apparent scrutiny from the University.

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Edinburgh Live spoke to Fig and Olives, an Edinburgh student who went on hunger strike for seven days, during which they drank only electrolyte water.

Fig and Olives, who is Palestinian, said that “in the silence of a hunger strike is the loudest form of protest.

“For me, I've exhausted all forms of escalation. Now what's left is to put my life on the line.

“This is how much I feel this is urgent, and [the University] needs to give me an adequate response that addresses this urgency.”

Fig and Olives was inspired by other student demonstrators like those from Brown University in the United States, who began a hunger strike in February which lasted eight days.

They said that the Edinburgh strike started with one person who didn't expect anyone else to join, but other students soon followed suit.

Since the encampment began, students began taking turns hunger striking, with as many as 17 students on hunger strike at once. The longest striker entered their twentieth day of fasting on 23 May.

Fig and Olives said of participation in the strike: “It just sort of happens, and it's beautiful that it has come along like this.

“I didn't expect so many people to join the hunger strike at all, but every day there's more people joining and it's been beautiful to see this act of solidarity.”

When speaking to Edinburgh Live, Fig and Olives was no longer hunger striking but described the experience as “really, really tough” and that “I've never felt more determined in any form of protests that I've done.”

They said the strike becomes harder to break the longer it continues because “your body's really on survival mode. The adrenaline is rushing, your body's protecting itself. And then the second you stop, you suddenly feel the effects.”

In the wake of the Principal and Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson announcing the formation of a working group to review the investment policy, Fig and Olives was hopeful that the university would continue to engage in negotiations with the Pro-Palestine groups.

“This is where we're going to see the impact of the hunger strike in the longer term. It's not going to come overnight but we're seeing the tide changing.

“We've seen other universities across the UK already divest or suspend their investments, like Goldsmiths, or Trinity College, or Cambridge.

“For us, even through months of negotiation, we haven't reached that stage yet where the administration is able to concede so it feels like we're working with an especially blatantly disregarding administration.”

In correspondence with students, a spokesperson for Edinburgh University: "The University community is, we are sure, aware of the ongoing encampment in Old College Quad in connection with the conflict in Israel and Palestine. We wanted to write to update our whole University community about the discussions that have been taking place with our students, and the commitments that we have made as a University.

"We abhor the violence and loss of life caused by the recent conflict – nobody can feel unaffected by the events. We want to make sure that we are open to all voices, and continue to ensure that we remain a safe and embracing community for all. We take seriously our duty of responsibility to listen to everyone in our community, while recognising that many students and staff have differing views on our activities and approach.

"Old College is a busy hub for our staff, students and visitors and we have seen a peaceful and respectful approach from the protestors, which is very much appreciated. We steadfastly support the right to take part in lawful, peaceful and respectful protest, and we value constructive challenge to our policies."