IN the same place where the Balfour Declaration was written in 1917, signing away the land of Palestine, there now stand rows of tents.

I’m in the Old College quad at Edinburgh University, where Lord Balfour was chancellor when he signed the declaration which facilitated the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, essentially legitimising the land being taken away from the Palestinian people.

A portrait of Balfour still hangs in the building. The space has now been reclaimed by a group of student activists demanding the university end its investment in Israeli companies.

The Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society (EUJPS) has been campaigning for divestment for the past decade.

Despite many meetings with university management and a motion from the students’ union which called on the university to divest, the group believes that since October, Edinburgh University has invested an additional £18 million in companies which are complicit in Israel’s war with Hamas.

There is space for about 50 people here. So far, they’ve been here for just over 24 hours – having arrived at midday on Sunday – and although it’s damp and miserable, the group remain positive about the impact they’ll have.

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“We’re not leaving when we have a meeting with [senior management]. We’re not leaving until our demands are met,” one of the students tells me.

But what exactly are their demands?

Among other things, the group has called on Edinburgh University to divest entirely from companies tied to Israel, to denounce its historic involvement in Palestine and to provide scholarships to Palestinian students from Gaza.

The university’s Old College, where the encampment has been set up, is also where the senior management team is based.

The response so far has been hostile, the activists tell me. Late on Sunday evening, all students at the university received an email which informed them of the encampment, and of restrictions which the university had put in place in response.

“We support the right to take part in lawful, peaceful and respectful protest and we are in touch with the protesters to listen to their concerns and to ensure their safety,” the email from senior management reads.

“The continuing violence and loss of life in Palestine is deeply distressing and we understand the strength of feeling on this issue. We are listening to concerns and are engaging directly with student groups on the issues they raise.

“We hope for an end to the violence, the release of the remaining hostages, and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“We are also working to minimise disruption to students, staff and visitors to our campus, particularly in this important time of year for many of you with exams underway.”

One of the ways in which the university is hoping to “minimise disruption” is by adding new ID requirements in order to access the Old College.

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“This means that students might assume that we are trying to prevent them from coming, when really we want this to be an open space,” the activists tell me.

“We want people to come and see us, to join us, and security have made it seem as though we’ve taken space from them, when really we’re trying to open up new dialogue.”

The students were inspired to start an encampment after seeing students at universities in the US set up similar protests.

The global movement has spread to Scotland, with an encampment previously set up in Holyrood, and students at Aberdeen University also joining on Monday afternoon.

“Our demands are not some abstract thing, and neither is this encampment,” one student tells me.

“This [the encampment] isn’t a metaphor, it is a physical space that is liberated. We think that these changes can be implemented, and implemented immediately if senior management decide to do so.”

The encampment comes as Israel ordered Palestinians to evacuate from parts of Rafah, where 1.4 million people are believed to be sheltering.