SPJP Wall Breaks Down Barriers

In the next two days, members of Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) are hoping to break down barriers in thinking about Israeli occupation in the West Bank by erecting — and manning — their own.

The wall at the top of MaGill Walk is modeled after the Israeli West Bank Wall, a separation barrier conceived by the Israeli government to reduce threats of Palestinian attacks.  Also referred to as the “Apartheid Wall,” the West Bank Wall effectively hinders the movement of Palestinians in nearby towns and villages, forcing travelers to take detours or suffer delays at checkpoints.

SPJP traditionally completes an annual large-scale project in the springtime to raise awareness or support for a set of issues in the region. While last year’s “Fruit of Occupation” served as a capstone to the group’s year-long campaign to boycott Sabra Hummus, this year’s simulation comes without an explicit rallying cry for a specific organization or initiative.

For SPJP member Maddy Booth ’13, the 2011 release of the documentary “Five Broken Cameras” illustrated the need for a more education-centered campus project. The documentary highlights the West Bank village of Bil’in as its residents engage in peaceful protests against the wall.

While the checkpoint simulation doesn’t ask students to take direct action, it creates a more tangible appreciation for the ways in which Palestinian movement is hindered in occupied territories in the West Bank.

“People really don’t understand what’s actually going on,” she said. “I feel like it’s [SPJP’s] responsibility, that students get that side of the story.”

Passerby who wish to participate in the simulation are handed identification cards as they descend the steps of Parrish. The IDs differ in their travel permit designation. While ID-holders with international or Israeli travel permits pass through the checkpoint with relatively little harassment, those who carry Palestinian travel permits — or worse, Palestinian IDs with no permit — are subject to longer questioning. Backpack searches are conducted while “travelers” are asked to keep their hands against the wall or behind their heads; multiple guards coalesce and repeatedly ask the same basic questions; and detainees are forced to remain silent throughout the extended process.

The SPJP “guards” adjust their treatment according to participants’ reactions; however, they attempt to maintain an authentic demeanor throughout the simulation.

SPJP member Ben-Bernard Herman ’14 noted that in regards to the questions asked and style of questioning, some of the guards have actual experience — a compelling component of the decision to execute this project is club members’ memories of their encounters with the West Bank Wall.

Booth hopes the experience will encourage members of the campus community to participate in the campus-wide discussion at the end of the week. She anticipates that the difficult middle ground between Israeli security and Palestinian rights will be one of the topics on the table.

“[The discussion] requires participation… and thinking about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine, and what it’s like to live in Palestinian territories,” Booth said.

She also hopes the project will encourage students to think about the ways in which American aid is used in the region — specifically, its contribution to Israeli settlement building in occupied territory and checkpoints in the region.

Some students, however, heavily criticized the project, arguing that it presented a one-sided view of the issue. Just over the past two months, Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have fired more than 30 rockets into Israel. The construction of the fence has significantly reduced the number of terrorist attacks in adjacent areas in Israel, according to the Israel Security Agency.

The campus discussion will be held on Friday at 4:00 in Kohlberg 116; it will be facilitated by Dean Alina Wong and Professor Elliot Ratzman. The “5 Broken Cameras” documentary screening will take place at 8:00 on Friday in Science Center 104.

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