Yesterday, students woke up to the sight of a large wall blocking the pathway between Sawyer Library and Paresky. The wall was constructed as a joint project between Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and VISTA, the College’s Latino/a student organization, and drew a comparison between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. The collaboration came about as a result of a conversation that took place during Claiming Williams Day on the similarities between the Palestinian occupation and the immigration controversy in the United States.
According to a joint statement made to the Record by SJP and VISTA leadership, the purpose of the “activist-spirited art installation” is to “represent the current state of immense militarization and apartheid on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian and U.S.-Mexican borders by challenging preconceived notions of apartheid as a thing of the past and not relevant to modern day states. By presenting these two geographic zones as isolated issues, one barely scratches at the surface of the pain committed by the continuous separation of families, increasing number of unlawful detainees in detention centers and the dehumanization of our communities.”
One side of the wall highlighted the issues provoked by the U.S.-Mexican border. Some panels were filled with large-scale paintings, one of which depicted a man pulling back the curtain of the wall to reveal a blue ocean. Another panel read, “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic,” while yet another panel said, “Inspired by Angela Davis.” One of the posters on the wall was actually taken from the U.S.-Mexican border by a student during a spring breakout trip. The poster protested the killing of a boy who had thrown a rock at the wall.
The other side of the wall examined the effects of the wall between Israel and the West Bank. One statement read, “This is a replica of a portion of the Israeli wall. The Israeli wall is 2,492,160’ long. This wall is 48’ long.” The Palestinian side of the wall also included posters on the status of the wall in international law, a map of the segregated roads in Israel and the West Bank and statistics of Palestinian displacement.
SJP and VISTA highlighted the position of the wall as a meaningful aspect of its message. “The wall itself, blocking one of the sidewalks leading from Sawyer to Paresky Center, challenges our every day accessibility to the facilities and resources on campus that we take for granted,” they said. “Some students expressed annoyance at having to go around the mere 48 feet the wall extends. These annoyances are temporary and not life-threatening. To those in Palestine and migrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico, the same cannot be said.”
Carl Szanton is the co-president of J Street U Williams, a group on campus dedicated to promoting pro-Israel, pro-peace policies. In response to the wall, he said, “It’s unfortunate to condense such a complicated situation into the existence of just one of its parts. While the barrier causes serious problems for Palestinians, it has also dramatically reduced terrorism in Jerusalem. But more importantly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved through negotiation that would set up a two-state solution and abolish this current barrier.”
SJP and VISTA responded to criticisms of the wall that objected to putting the wall up the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying, “VISTA and SJP want to be very clear about our position against this critique. Grieving for those lost in the Holocaust is not and should not be affected by criticisms of the Israeli state. The Holocaust was a tragic incident for all those Jews and non-Jews alike who perished under brutal oppression under the Nazi regime.”
They also pointed out that Jewish and Israeli identity cannot be conflated. “Many Jews do not stand with Israel and agree that it is, in fact, a modern-day oppressive apartheid state. These criticisms are equally offensive to the Jewish members of SJP and VISTA who feel disrespected by the interchangeability of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish.’”
On Friday, SJP and VISTA will hold a discussion on these issues. The discussion will include a panel of professors and students, and will aim to “engage the various interpretations of the mock-wall.”