As a kickoff to its Peace, Not Apartheid week, the Boston College Students for Justice in Palestine, BC SJP, put up an 8-foot-high wall in Stokes lawn today, March 18. The week's mission is to create awareness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, educate students via a Palestinian perspective on this issue, and foster dialogue.
The wall is a representation of the wall that exists in Palestine to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians, which infringes on Palestinian land and is considered "not technically legal", said Kelsey Wasserman, co-president of BC SJP and A&S'13.
"It's not so much that there is a wall it's the fact that when it's complete, 85 percent of it will not be on the boundary line but rather in Palestinian territory, going through villages, going through homes, separating farmers from their land," an anonymous member of SJP added. Along with being an actual representation of the 26-foot-high wall in the Israel and Palestine region, it is also a symbol of oppression.
Ale Rodriguez, vice-president of BC SJP and A&S'14, said that an important point to take away about the wall is that is isolates the issue for the Israelis. "When you have a massive 26 foot wall, on the other side you don't know what is actually happening," Rodriguez said. "[The Israeli's] don't have to know, they don't have to be aware."
In addition, the Israeli side of the wall is comparatively nicer. While the Palestinian side consists of "shitty concrete", the Israeli side has been exquisitely designed and made of "beautiful cobblestone", according to the anonymous student.
In an effort to make the Palestinian side of the wall look better, the people have decorated it with graffiti (see image above). BC SJP, in its reproduction of the wall, included two famous graffiti drawings done by Banksy, a famous graffiti artist.
"The girl represents freedom," Rodriguez said. On the actual wall, the graffiti of the girl is actually placed at the top so as to look like she is floating above the wall, up and away from oppression. The girl holds four balloons: a red one, a green one, a black one, and a white one. These are the colors of the Palestinian flag.
The other is a dove as a symbol of peace. The dove is holding an olive branch in its beak which is representative of the Middle East in general but especially of Palestine in this context, according to Rodriguez. As a result of the occupation the Israelis have been practicing deforestation and poisoning of the olives trees and thereby crippling the Palestinian economy which depends on its production of olives, Wasserman said.
This is no ordinary dove peace symbol; there is something particularly interesting about this representation. It is wearing a bullet proof vest. "This is seen as a symbol of resilience and that [the Palestinians] are not going to give up," Rodriguez said. The bullet proof vest has a red target symbol painted on it, as if it is being targeted by a machine-gun. This, Rodriguez said, is to show that the peace process in the Palestinian-Israeli process is being targeted, that the Israeli's don't want peace.
"They want the dove to fall," said Rodriguez.
While standing by this symbolic wall, members of BC SJP spoke to students about its meaning and the groups presence on campus as well as the upcoming events to be held as a part of Peace, Not Apartheid week.
Peace, Not Apartheid week
The first event, to be held on Tuesday, March 19, is a film screening of Roadmap to Apartheid which compares the Palestinian conflict to what is happening in South Africa, according to Wasserman. In an effort to help students understand the conflict, Palestinian advocates have been using the South Africa apartheid analogy as a lens because more people know about it and understand it.
"It's interesting to draw the analogy because there are many striking similarities and obviously some stark differences but its good to put in that context to really understand it," Longman said.
In addition, many South Africans have been involved in supporting Palestine including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African President Nelson Mandela. "They compare the pass system that was in South Africa to the permits that exist in Palestine," Longman said about the film that features South African activists.
On Wednesday, March 20, BC SJP is co-sponsoring Tel- Aviv Nighclubs and West Bank Checkpoints: The Politics of Being Fabulous in the Holy Land with Allies of Boston College, which is hosting its Week of Silence this week. The event features speaker Sa'ed Atshan who will be addressing LGBT issues and sexuality in general in the Middle East but paying particular attention to Israel and Palestine. Atshan will also be speaking about the concept of pink washing. "Basically, Israel is painting itself as a very LGBT-friendly state as a way to more or less allow people to look over its other human rights violations," Wasserman said.
Atshan is currently a PhD candidate at Harvard University and lectures at Harvard University as well as Tufts University. Although Palestinian, he was born in the U.S. but returned to Palestine when he was young.
BC SJP has invited Josh Ruebner for its last event on Thursday, March 21. Ruebner is the national advocacy directer of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation. "He is coming to talk about how our tax dollars as Americans are funding the Israeli occupation and how [President Barack Obama] has failed to step up to the plate to do something to stop [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu]," Rodriguez said.
Because, in addition to being a U.S. citizen, Ruebner is Jewish-Israeli, he provides an interesting perspective. He witnessed a suicide bombing while studying in college in Israel, Longman said. This led him to question what drove people to commit such an act and to become interested in the conflict, according to Longman.
"He's a very unique character and has a very interesting perspective that I think will be very powerful," said Longman.
Students for Justice in Palestine
"We want to stress that we are not anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, we are pro-Palestinian," Wasserman said. The group aims to educate students about the conflict and provide a Palestinian perspective on the matter. The mainstream media in the U.S. does not give attention to the conflict and when it does it largely provides a pro-Israeli perspective, according to Wasserman.
"Going to a Jesuit school and in trying to be men and women for others, we really want to shed light on the conflict," Wasserman said. BC SJP wants students to recognize that as U.S. citizens and taxpayers their involvement is implicit in that the U.S. provides almost 3 billion in funding to Israel. "We should be able to speak up and speak out against the conflict," she said.
Longman said that her impression is that students at BC are neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestine. "They just don't know that much and are intimidated by the conflict because it is very polarizing and complex," Longman said, citing this as the reason why students are reluctant to learn about the conflict. "We're hoping these events will be a good introduction and spark academic intellectual discourse on campus," she said.
Most of the students in BC SJP went to Palestine during the winter break as a part of a class called Social Justice in Israel and Palestine taught by Eve Spangler, a professor in the sociology department, who is also the club advisor. Rodriguez said that the message of the Palestinians was unanimous: "Just bring my story back to the U.S. and tell my story". She said that the people knew that as U.S. citizens the BC students could act in the U.S. and "give a voice to the voiceless" in Palestine.
"I think that's what we want to do as a group," Rodriguez said.