Home » Palestinian Australians urge university to cut ties with company supplying steel to Israel

Palestinian Australians urge university to cut ties with company supplying steel to Israel

University student Rawda Alsharoof says every time she calls her family and friends in Palestine she learns of a new tragedy.

“I constantly hear about people dying,” she said.

“People tell me, ‘so and so’s brother has been murdered’ and ‘so and so’s brother has been kidnapped’, they don’t know where any of their family are.”

The second-year psychology student is part of a group of students camping out at the University of Wollongong (UOW) calling on the administration to sever its ties with Israel.

“I walk around the university just thinking how many people here, their money is being directly invested in Israeli deals,” Ms Alsharoof said.

“You feel this sense of guilt that I can’t help but have my money given to the Israeli military.”

UOW is the latest university to host an encampment, with pro-Palestine solidarity camps now established at 10 universities around the country.

Encampments have been set up on university campuses across the country opposing Israel’s military offensive.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Ms Alsharoof, who grew up in Jordan after her family fled from the West Bank, said she has been shocked by Israel’s latest military operation in the border city of Rafah.

“You spend days horrified thinking how easily it could have been your family in that situation,” she said.

“It could have been us living in the north, starving to death, or it could have been us at the Rafah border currently being invaded and bombed.”

Calls to end ties with steel supplier

Among the students’ demands is that the university end its partnership with Illawarra steel manufacturer Bisalloy Steel.

Tents in the rain

University of Wollongong protesters have called for a public meeting with the administration to discuss its ties with Israel. (ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

The company has previously signed contracts with Israeli defence companies to supply armour grade steel, and is 

Australia’s only manufacturer of quenched and tempered steel plates suitable for armour applications.

In 2017, Israel was the largest export market for the company’s armour-grade steel.

Bisalloy is also involved in research with the university through its Defence Materials Technology Centre.

“We have made our demands clear to the university we want them to divest from these programs which are helping research for Bisalloy Steel,” organiser Megan Guy said.

Protestors outside Bisalloy

Protesters have picketed Bisalloy’s Wollongong offices, opposing the steel company’s links with Israel.(Supplied)

Today, protesters gathered at the Bisalloy office in the Wollongong suburb of Unanderra, opposing the company’s dealings with Israel.

Among them was Safaa Rayan who fled Palestine as a child and is now a social worker in Wollongong.

“We want Bisalloy to hear the residents of the Illawarra saying loud and clear that we do not want a weapons manufacturer who is on our doorstep [manufacturing] parts that are being used in a current genocide.”

Bisalloy exports ‘protection-grade products’

Bisalloy declined to be interviewed by the ABC, but a spokesperson said in a statement it cannot confirm whether any of its products have been used in the Israel-Gaza war.

“Any international sale of these products is done with the strict scrutiny and approval of the Australian Government, Defence Export Control,’  the spokesperson said.

“Bisalloy typically only exports lightweight protection-grade products [and] has no knowledge, nor is it advised or informed of the use or location of use of its products.”

The spokesperson said Bisalloy has a longstanding relationship with UOW supporting materials research and students.

“There are no projects related to technology to be sold to Israel,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the University of Wollongong did not comment on the students’ demand that it cut ties with Bisalloy.

“The University upholds the principles of academic freedom and free speech, encourages open expression, free debate and respectful discourse,” a UOW spokesperson said.

The university said it has “zero tolerance” for any form of racism, hate speech or harassment and will monitor activity at the camp closely to ensure it remains a safe space.

Jewish students feel ‘uncomfortable’

Jewish University of Wollongong student Bec spoke to the ABC at the encampment, but did not provide her full name, saying she was worried she would be targeted.

She said the presence of the demonstrators on campus made her feel unsafe.

“For me it makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t have a group of students to support me,” she said.

“Even if the security guards are here does not mean I necessarily feel safe.”

Tents in the rain

The University fo Wollongong is the latest university to host a pro-Palestine encampment.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Bec said she was aware there were Jewish people involved in the encampment, but did not support their views.

“Yes there are Jewish people who are pro-Palestine but they are also being hypocrites in my opinion, because they are kind of against their own people,” she said.

“They are ignoring what happened to their own people over there and why it is important for Jewish people to have a state.”

Rawda Alsharoof said there is no anti-Semitic sentiment within the camp, and that Jewish people are an important part of the civil action.

“Just look at the amount of anti-Zionist Jews who constantly come to these encampments,” she said.

“We are not a movement that is anti-Semitic — we are a movement of anti-Zionism and anti-Western imperialism.”