To the Editor:
Thursday’s Argus article on the Israeli Apartheid Week was incredibly disappointing. Instead of engaging in a useful conversation about the oppressive behavior of the Israeli government in the West Bank, it put WeSJP on trial for attempting to create a dialogue outside of the parameters of the pro-Israel voices on this campus.
The mock separation wall is an artistic representation of what is a cruel reality for Palestinians living in the West Bank, and it was built with the intention of spreading information to further dialogue among students and campus groups. Throughout this week, we have been dedicated to raising awareness about the Israeli occupation, drawing from a variety of sources to bring attention to the inhumane and undemocratic practices of the Israeli government in the West Bank.
I was not surprised when members of pro-Israel campus groups such as J Street U and Wesleyan Students United with Israel (WSUI), as well as unaffiliated students, expressed discomfort with the wall. The negative response it received from students just proves the oppressive nature of the actual separation wall in the West Bank. The separation wall is a piece of hate, but what it isn’t is a “melodramatic piece of furniture.” It is a 26-feet tall, concrete, barbed-wire fence that symbolizes entrapment and racial segregation.
Becca Caspar-Johnson posits that Israeli Apartheid Week is problematic because it “shuts people down” and puts them on the defensive. It is disconcerting to see members of progressive organization such as J Street U closed to a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that is not within the bounds of their platform. Her discomfort is proof that the conversation at Wesleyan has been too long monopolized by pro-Israel voices. WeSJP seeks to expose the side of the conflict that is too often forgotten, but that most immediately touches the lives of the Palestinian people. We believe that we can only have a productive conversation about the conflict if we don’t shut down, but open ourselves up to different arguments and perspectives.
Another criticism of Israeli Apartheid Week came from Emma Golub, who argued that the word “apartheid” is an incorrect term to describe the events in Palestine. She says that what is happening in the West Bank is incomparable to the Apartheid in South Africa; in fact she claims that calling what is happening in Israel lessens the memory of the South African Apartheid.
The Times of Israel released an article on March 2, after the Argus article came out, reporting that the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa, has officially endorsed “Israeli Apartheid Week” along with over 75 South African NGOs, trade unions, schools, universities, and civil society groups. Their support is unsurprising for anyone who can recognize the symptoms of apartheid: racially segregated political and legal systems, which inevitably perpetuate a racially segregated society.
The Argus article, along with J Street U and WSUI, puts the mock separation wall on trial for being a roadblock to positive dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus. I believe that in so far as grabbing attention, raising awareness, and spreading information, the mock separation wall did what it was supposed to do. It was successful because now we can have a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside of the bounds of the established pro-Israel voices that have been dominating campus discourse. The conversation between the different campus groups is one that the Wesleyan community should hear and, if individuals choose to do so, be a part of.
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is imperialist, undemocratic, and in violation of fundamental human rights. As members of a conscious community, we have the obligation to do what we can in order to preserve human dignity across the globe.
As any rational individual, I am in support of any action that ends racial discrimination and colonialism. I ask the Wesleyan community to be open to dialogue. Instead of getting into petty disputes about what does and does not create positive dialogue, we ought to stand firm in our principles and actually talk to each other. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is undoubtedly prone to discomfort and emotional reactions, this is true for individuals across the political spectrum. It is, however, necessary to engage to create change, and I hope that we can unite around our passion for freedom, equality, self-determination, and cultural rights.
Ertas is a member of the class of 2016.