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Students Hunger Strike to Demand Divestment from Israeli Apartheid

One striker has not eaten in over 30 days

Since February 18, a group of McGill students have been on a hunger strike to protest the university’s investments in companies funding Israeli genocide and apartheid. Per their demands, they are refusing to eat until McGill divests from and boycotts companies complicit in the Israeli genocide against Palestinians, such as Lockheed Martin, RBC, Chevron, and Unilever. In addition to companies, strikers are demanding an academic boycott for McGill to cut ties with the Israeli state and Israeli universities and remove classes with ties to Israel. There are currently two strikers on indefinite hunger strikes, meaning they have not eaten since the strike began, and several other relay strikers who strike for a couple of days at a time. At the time of writing, one striker is on day 32, while the other is on day 21.

“The reason why we decided to do this is because we weren’t listened to, and McGill is obviously not going to listen to us unless we make them,” said Karim, a relay hunger striker and volunteer in an interview with the Daily. As a McGill student, he sees this as an opportunity for the university to take action that reflects the values of many students. He argued that many of their demands resonate with the student population, shown through the overwhelming support for SSMU’s Policy Against Genocide in Palestine, supported by 78.7 per cent of SSMU voters with record turnout. Additionally, an open letter to the McGill administration, in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their demands, has received over 1,200 signatures from alumni, faculty, staff, and others affiliated with the university.

At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza exceeds 30,000, with many more still unaccounted for. The World Bank has also declared that half of Gaza’s population is at risk of imminent famine. Oxfam alleges that the Israeli state is responsible for this crisis by blocking relief from entering Gaza, leading to conditions of “man-made starvation.”

“We’re very lucky where we are right now as hunger strikers, even the ones who are striking indefinitely, [because] they get to do this by choice,” said Karim. He pointed out that Gazans don’t have the luxury of choosing whether they eat or not. He said that he and the other strikers cannot live with the fact that some of their tuition money is being used to fund this genocide and famine in Gaza. “We’re simply asking for humane treatment [of Palestinians] and until Israel does this, we are under the obligation to vote with our money, and one way is through investments.”

So far, the hunger strikers have not received much of a response from the university administration. Karim explained that although the administration initially offered to meet with the hunger strikers, they proposed a private meeting, whereas the hunger strikers wanted to invite representatives from all pro-Palestinian groups on campus. McGill, despite eventually agreeing to the demand, only offered a 30-minute meeting, which the hunger strikers deemed insufficient time to communicate and discuss their demands. Eventually, the meeting was called off as the administration believed the meeting would be unproductive. While the administration expressed “concern” for their well-being in email exchanges, President Deep Saini has also stated that McGill will not participate in an academic boycott of Israel by severing ties with Israeli academic and research institutions.

Although Karim has been hunger striking for two to three days at a time, he said that it significantly drained both his physical and mental abilities. He imagines this must be much worse for the indefinite hunger strikers, one of whom hasn’t eaten for over 30 days, only consuming a nutritional broth and electrolytes. Although medical teams are monitoring the strikers, Karim argues that the best way to ensure their wellbeing is for McGill to divest from companies funding Israeli apartheid and boycott Israeli institutions.

As stated through their email to the administration, the hunger strikers warn that “the future of this strike and the inevitable deterioration of the health of the hunger strikers lies in the hands of the McGill administration and the board of governors. Only these individuals have the power to put an end to this, and that is to start taking our demands seriously.”