On the morning of Tuesday, April 12, we, the Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine, erected a protest piece outside of the Usdan University Center. The piece was a mock apartheid wall, a visual reminder of the continued injustice in which Americans are complicit. Comprised of four separate three-foot panels of wood painted a stormy sky grey, the wall was decorated with our own protest art and facts about the realities of life under occupation. It was a tribute to Palestinian perseverance in the face of continued Israeli denial of fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination. Through their colonization, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation, the Israeli state has sought and continues to seek the erasure of Palestinians from historical and cultural narratives. This assertion cannot be cast into doubt, nor subjected to claims of bias. While one has a right to claim opinion, no one has the right to obscure fact: According to the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding, there are 2.7 million Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, and 2 million living under an inhumane siege in Gaza. At any given time, there are approximately 500 Israeli army checkpoints, roadblocks, and other obstacles to Palestinian movement within the occupied West Bank. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are denied dignity and civil liberties, and forced to become prisoners in their own land.
Our erection of the wall was a statement of presence and a reminder of the continued struggle of a people. Palestinian artist and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir writes, “colours, symbols, and images [are] invested with dangerous and emancipatory powers.” This is unshakably true for the Israeli colonial project, the success of which depends on making invisible to the outside world—and even to the citizens of Israel—the suffering of the Palestinian people. The continued construction of settlements, which directly contravene international law, are a manifestation of this erasure. A Haaretz article by Israeli journalist Amira Hass, published on January 22, 2003, is titled “You Can Drive Along and Never See an Arab.” Haas describes the road system in the West Bank and Gaza, which contains 150 to 160 settlement blocks. Haas writes, “These are roads on which Arabs and Palestinians cannot travel; if you are an Israeli citizen and settler, you can drive on them and not see any Arabs.”
Our wall was designed to evoke images of the apartheid wall in Israel. The real wall currently stretches 325 miles and has cost $2.6 billion thus far. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has deemed the wall illegal, though construction has yet to slow down on a wall which will eventually be between 420 and 440 miles long (according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and human rights group B’Tselem, respectively). This is more than twice the length of Israel’s internationally recognized border with the West Bank. Eighty-five percent of the wall will be built not along Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 border, but on Palestinian land inside the occupied West Bank. The wall is designed to envelop as much Palestinian land as possible on the western (Israeli) side, while isolating Palestinians on the eastern side. By completion, the wall, along with the settlements, military zones, and Israeli-only roads and highways, is projected to cover 46 percent of the West Bank, effectively annexing it to Israel.
The wall is a crystallization of the injustice of the colonial project, one in which we are all complicit. According to the June 10, 2015 Congressional Research Service report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel” written by Jeremy M. Sharp, the Obama Administration gave Israel $3.1 billion in military aid, and $619.8 million for “joint” U.S.-Israel missile defense programs in 2015, totaling more than $3.7 billion that year. To put it in more direct terms, American taxpayers give Israel $10.2 million of military aid per day.
In our erection of the wall, we sought to remind our fellow students, faculty, and peers of the role we all play in perpetuating this injustice. We write as Palestinians, Israeli and American Jews, and students of differing identities from the world over. If the mock wall created offense, it may have been from the shock of recognition that some are in solidarity with the efforts to resist the civil and cultural erasure of the Palestinian people, a process with a long and bloody history.
The Israeli government, from the ’70s onward, has engaged in a mass campaign to eliminate Palestine’s greatest intellectuals, artists, and leaders. To quote Jacir’s extensive list, the extended operation of assassinations has included novelist Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut (along with his 16-year-old niece who was in the car with him at the time); writer Wael Zuaiter in Rome; intellectual Mahmoud al-Hamshari in Paris; poet Kamal Nasser; Kamal Idwan; Ali Salameh; feminist leader Nada Yashruti in Beirut, and many—a despairing many—more. With the erection of the wall, we try to call attention to the forced erasure of Palestinian livelihood and identity and show fellowship with those suffering due to our unwitting contributions. Our protest gesture is small, but the idea significant: We will not stand idly by and watch the destruction of a people. We leave you with a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. We reiterate his call to oppose injustice no matter where it may be, and by whom it is perpetrated. As a wise Palestinian refugee utters in Michel Khleifi’s documentary “Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction,” “Rights do not disappear as long as someone claims them.” Help us spread the call, now and tomorrow, in trying to claim for the beleaguered Palestinians the dignity and humanity we owe them.
Here, on the slopes before sunset and
At the gun-mouth of time
Near orchards deprived of their shadows
We do what prisoners do:
We nurture hope.
– Mahmoud Darwish
This piece was contributed by Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine.