McGill Hunger Strike for Palestine enters its seventh week

Students protest university’s ties to Israel as McGill refuses to divest

McGill students and hunger strikers seated on the stairs to McGill University. Courtesy McGill Hunger Strike

Interviewed students withheld their last names for their safety.

On Feb. 13, a new student group called McGill Hunger Strikes announced on Instagram that a number of students would not eat until McGill divests from Israel. Now, over a month later, students are continuing their efforts as a part of their indefinite strike.

“What drove me to do it is really the outrage and the sadness that everyone is feeling right now and the need for something to be changed,” said Zaynab, a hunger strike member.

According to Zaynab, the hunger strike is a direct response to McGill’s refusal to listen to its students, despite criticism and protest from the student community. 

“We have exhausted every single other avenue,” said Zaynab. “We tried it the democratic way and it was put on hold. We tried manifesting, we tried sit-ins, we tried talking to admin, we tried everything.” 

On March 23, one hunger striker was hospitalized and has since no longer been able to continue her strike.

“[The goal of the strike is] to get the demands of divestment met, to get back $20 million that is being invested into genocidal weapon manufacturing companies, and to have a full academic boycott of Israeli institutions,” said Kris, a member of the McGill hunger strike.

McGill University has continued to economically support companies such as Lockheed Martin, Safran and Airbus Aerospace, all weapons manufacturers, as well as several other companies that have more indirect ties with Israel, such as Coca-Cola and L’Oreal, which both operate factories in Israel settlements on Palestinian land. McGill has also collaborated with several Israeli academic institutions like Tel Aviv University and collaborations such as the McGill-Israel Entrepreneurship Program. These programs have been long protested by pro-Palestinian student groups.  

Despite the protest from student groups and the hunger strike, Angela Campbell, the Associate Provost at McGill stated that will not sever ties with academic and research institutions in Israel. 

In a statement to The Link, McGill’s media relations team said that “McGill respects students’ rights to pursue political objectives and express political convictions,” the statement read. “We have reminded the students that there is a process in place for expressing their concerns about any investment holding of the university.”

According to the McGill Hunger Strikes Instagram account, on March 18, McGill asked for private meetings with the hunger strikers, with a maximum of eight people present. However, the McGill hunger strikers declined the invitation, as students are adamant to host the meeting in public. 

The university emailed the group to discuss an offer to meet privately, but no meeting has taken place as of the day of publication. The post adds that McGill’s administration had previously agreed to a 90-minute public meeting, but later cancelled.

“We have offered more than once to meet with them, but they have refused to meet on the terms proposed,” the media relations spokesperson said. 

“Our first demands were that we want a public meeting, because it’s a public matter,” said Kris. “And it’s not just hunger strikers who have been asking and demanding for this, it’s many student groups and many people and the community as a whole.”

According to the striking students, the communication between strikers and the administration has been inconsistent, with periods of contact followed by silence for weeks. As of publication, the McGill administration has not been in contact with the group since March 18. 

“At one point, communication was cut off for 19 or 20 days so nothing from the McGill administration for 20 days while students were starving,” Zaynab said.

Although the university's administration has shown concern over students' health, the university's inaction has led to frustration and outrage from many, expressed through repeated support for the students. 

“I think they’re very much an institution, like many others, that really only care about money,” said Kris. “I’d say they’re more of a corporation than a space of education.”

According to the statement from McGill University, they “continue to work daily on this issue,” but since change is not evident, at least in the present time, the hunger strike will continue indefinitely, connecting more and more with the Canadian and international community. 

“What’s happening with the Mohawk Mothers, with the hunger strikers, it’s getting global attention,” Kris said.

The hunger strike has also collaborated with other pro-Palestinian student groups, sharing resources and working together towards their common goals. 

“All the protesting groups on campus, we’ve been in contact with them, we’ve worked with them and it truly has been a great proof of unity,” Zaynab said.

The support for the hunger strike has been widespread, with the group’s Instagram accumulating more than three thousand followers in a little more than a month. 

“Just the response of so many organizations and people willing to help and offer space and time and commitment in some form, I feel a lot of hope in our movement,” Kris said.

The McGill hunger strike has no set end date and no clear end game, as the McGill administration has yet to meet the strikers’ demands. In the meantime, the strikers continue to experience and document the serious health issues that ensue on their Instagram.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 13, published April 2, 2024.