Durham university cancelled a debate on the war in Gaza at the last minute after a ‘mob’ of pro-Palestine protesters ‘locked’ students inside a chamber for more than two hours. 

Students preparing the chamber for the Friday night debate – about whether ‘Palestinian Leadership is the Biggest Barrier to Peace’ – found themselves locked inside when protesters formed a human chain around the building.

Those who were set to defend the argument were Natasha Hausdorff, of UK Lawyers for Israel, investigative journalist David Collier and Lance Forman, a former Brexit Party MEP.

Students preparing the chamber ‘locked themselves in to prevent the mob entering the building’, Mr Forman told the Mail. 

Union members called the university authorities to request police assistance to clear the entrance for the debate.

Mr Forman said: ‘The university did not act and before long the mob grew in size and formed a human chain around the building to prevent access. 

Protesters standing outside the building at Durham university, with one sign reading: 'Genocide is not up 4 debate'

Protesters standing outside the building at Durham university, with one sign reading: ‘Genocide is not up 4 debate’ 

A protester holds a megaphone outside the building where the debate was set to take place

A protester holds a megaphone outside the building where the debate was set to take place 

Union members called the university authorities to request police assistance to clear the entrance for the debate

Union members called the university authorities to request police assistance to clear the entrance for the debate

‘The students inside were by this point terrified that they would also break in. It was up to the University to speak to the police to facilitate this. But they backed down and caved into the mob.’

The Mail understands that the university could have classified the protesters as ‘trespassers’. If they had done so, the police would have been able to remove the protestors and allow the event to take place, but the university chose not to do this.

Throughout the night, the protestors banged drums, shouted chants and sang songs, including ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, ‘Israel is a terrorist state’ and ‘Durham Uni you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide’.

Mr Forman condemned the university’s actions, stating: ‘It was an absolute disgrace that the University behaved in this way and did not allow us to make our case.

‘They chickened out or were deliberately ensuring their students would not hear from outstanding speakers.

‘If Universities can’t protect free speech within academia they need to replace the Chancellors with those who will.’

He said the students involved ‘were devastated and we were all looking forward to the engagement which would have helped shed light on a very fraught situation’.

David Collier and Lance Forman with Natasha Hausdorff as they prepared for the cancelled debate

David Collier and Lance Forman with Natasha Hausdorff as they prepared for the cancelled debate

One sign read 'Genocide is not up 4 debate' as protesters stood outside the building

One sign read ‘Genocide is not up 4 debate’ as protesters stood outside the building 

Union members called the university authorities to request police assistance to clear the entrance for the debate

Union members called the university authorities to request police assistance to clear the entrance for the debate

David Collier also criticised the ‘outrageous cowardice’ of Durham Uni, writing on X: ‘I personally saw Durham students yesterday in tears and fearful for their safety because Durham University allowed masked thugs to cage them inside a room for two and a half hours. 

‘How is this allowed in the UK? Durham University should hang its head in shame.’

Those opposing the motion included Chris Doyle, the director of the council for Arab-British Understanding, Dr Peter Shambrook, a specialist Middle Eastern historian and Mohab Ramadan, a Durham university undergraduate.

Ramadan, a passionate pro-Palestinian activist who has been involved with the encampment on Palace Green since it began, visited the protestors at their invitation on Thursday to read them his speech and ask for their input. 

As he entered the camp, he was shouted at and called a ‘Zionist pig’, a ‘traitor’ and told to ‘f*** off and never come back’. In the lead up to the event it quickly became clear that the protestors feel that there is no debate to be had.’

Ramadan said: ‘Granting yourself what you’re denying to others is shameful. To deny others the freedom to speak and debate when you yourself have encamped on Palace Green and have been tolerated, allowed to speak and be heard by the entire University is unforgivable… your actions have alienated the very people you seek to persuade.’

Another sign at the protest read: 'What debate? 15,000 dead children'

Another sign at the protest read: ‘What debate? 15,000 dead children’ 

The debate was set to take place in a building at Durham university

The debate was set to take place in a building at Durham university 

UK Lawyers for Israel will live stream the debate tonight [Sunday], where ‘the speakers for the motion will deliver the speeches they had prepared for the debate and discuss the university’s obligation to secure freedom of speech within the law’.

Matthew Brooker, President of the Durham Union Society, said: ‘We feel that Durham University has bent over backwards to accommodate the protesters.

‘Many students, irrespective of their opinion on the motion, are devastated that the debate was prevented from going ahead. They feel that free speech died in Durham last night. One student said ‘it felt like we were abandoned.’

‘Those trapped inside became increasingly distressed as the protesters’ screaming, drumming and chanting was coming from all sides. 

‘Despite the fear of those inside, every person in that room was adamant that they wanted to continue with the debate and that we wouldn’t be bullied into giving up.’

The university declined to comment.

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