If you happened to walk by Paresky around lunch time on Tuesday, April 16, you might have noticed some of your fellow Ephs being subjected to security checks, their backpacks searched as they were made to kneel on the ground in a cordoned off area where their hands were tied behind their backs. For the average Williams student, such unjustified invasion of privacy and public embarrassment is unfamiliar, and, as some passersby complained, uncomfortable to watch. For countless Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories and working in settlements or in Israel proper, however, checkpoints are just one aspect of the discrimination faced on a daily basis.
That Tuesday was the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence. As has been done in past years, a student group (this year it was J-Street) celebrated by tabling in Paresky and handing out birthday cake to students walking by. The idea seems innocent enough, and offering free cake is a foolproof way to welcome the whole Williams College campus to join in the celebrations.
But last year as a first-year, I found the Israeli Independence Day cake and its consumption by Williams students – many of whom are blissfully unaware of what it truly means to partake in this celebration – to be extremely problematic. This year, in a well-intentioned attempt to acknowledge the Palestinian struggle, student leaders of J-Street decided to have a second cake that would not be eaten to acknowledge that while Israelis are celebrating their state, Palestinians have yet to receive theirs. But twin cakes for Palestine and Israel, rather than resolving the problem, only accentuates it: Williams students would now enjoy the Israeli cake while purporting to consider the Palestinians. The second cake normalizes the Palestinian cause and creates the illusion that Israel and Palestine are just two separate, equal nations. Nothing could be further from the truth. The suffering of the Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories is inextricably linked to the creation and expansion of the state of Israel, and the idea that we can celebrate the creation of Israel while acknowledging Palestinian suffering only covers up this fact.
After meeting with a number of Ephs, of all backgrounds, who shared my discomfort with the two cakes, we decided to stage a demonstration, in the form of the afore mentioned “security checks” that aimed to get students to think about what it means to celebrate the creation of a state that established self-determination for one people by stripping another of their land and rights. On the same day Zionists celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Palestinians remember the Nakba, an Arabic word translated as “catastrophe,” when the first ethnic cleansing of Palestine occurred. Celebrating Israel’s founding disregards the fact that its creation was contingent on the violent expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians, either by force or out of fear that their villages would suffer the massacre, as some villages did. The Nakba continues into the present, as Palestinians face violent discrimination within Israel and live under Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories.
Recently, it has become fashionable to support Israel, provided one first condemns the continued building of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and advocates for a two-state solution. But a two-state solution would not look like the Israeli and Palestinian cakes in Paresky late Tuesday – separate but equal. A two-state solution would legitimize Israeli land acquisition and expropriation of natural resources beginning in 1948. Furthermore, celebrating Israel without critically thinking about the historic and contemporary practices of settler-colonialism does not take into account that Israeli actions have effectively made a two-state solution impossible. For instance, after the United Nations vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member state with observer status, Israel announced plans to build three thousand additional housing units in the occupied territories, including planned development of the E-1 area. The E-1 area, if developed by Israel, would serve to separate East Jerusalem from the West Bank and divide the West Bank into noncontiguous northern and southern areas. It is widely known as the “nail in the coffin of the two state solution.” Twin cakes side by side leave all of that out of the picture.
And that is where the searching, handcuffing and being made to wait came in. Most Ephs walking by Paresky last Tuesday stopped to ask us questions about the demonstration and to learn more about the Palestinian struggle. Others signed our poster for solidarity. But for me the goal of the demonstration was not to interest every student passing by. Conveying the history and sharing information is a small first step. The larger goal is to encourage people to delve into the Israel-Palestine issue, to come to their own conclusions and to think before accepting cake that celebrates a state the history of which remains largely hidden.
Sara Hassan ’15 is from Toronto, On. She lives in Gladden.